Ontario's Agricultural Land is at Risk
Ontario is blessed with some of the best farmland in Canada. Only 0.5 percent of all of Canada's land is considered class 1 farmland (according to the Canada Land Inventory), which means it has no significant limitations for farming and has the highest productivity for a variety of crops. More than half of this land is found in Ontario.
Despite its obvious importance, Ontario is loosing its agricultural land base at a rapid rate as many farms go out of production every year. Urban sprawl and rural non-farm development are contributing to the annual loss of thousands of acres of farmland. Flat, cleared, agricultural land is not only easily developed, it is also very affordable to developers who are seeking to meet the demand for land to accommodate urban growth. It is often far more financially profitable in the long term for a farmer to sell his or her land knowing that it may be converted to some non-agricultural land use, than to continue farming.
In the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) alone, more than 2,000 farms and 150,000 acres of farmland were lost to production in the two decades between 1976 and 1996. Although farmland loss is not tracked as extensively today as it was in previous decades, we know that the amount of farmland in the GTA decreased by at least 50,000 acres between 1996 and 2001 and that Ontario lost at least 600,000 acres of farmland between 1996 and 2006. This includes 18% of Ontario's Class 1 farmland. It can take thousands of years to produce one centimeter of the topsoil needed for agricultural production. For this reason, Ontario's farmland should be seen as a limited natural resource, to be managed and protected.
Why Save Farmland?
Protecting farmland helps to preserve a productive land base for the agricultural economy, preserve the amenity values of open space and rural character, slow suburban sprawl, provide wildlife habitat, and provide an opportunity for groundwater recharge in areas where suburban development is occurring.
Food Security and Local Food Supply
Preserving farmland helps ensure a continued supply of locally grown produce as a growing number of consumers are revealing their preference for and supporting the provision of local sources of farm products. People are choosing local in order to obtain fresher products, avoid lengthy transportation, and support the local agricultural economy. Direct-to-consumer markets include pick-your-own operations, roadside stands, farmer's markets, direct farm markets and community supported agriculture.
If Ontario should ever need or choose to be self-sufficient in the production of its food it is critical that we take action now to protect our remaining productive soils. Oil shortages and rising prices may put a premium on local production rather than global marketing.
The Ontario farm and food processing sector generates over $30 billion in sales - more than 35 percent of Canada's Agri-Food sector gross domestic product - and employs 700,000 people.
Saving farmland also provides fiscal stability for local governments. New development requires services such as schools, roads and fire/police protection, whereas privately owned and managed agricultural land requires very few services. Cost of Community Services studies in both the U.S. and Canada show that farmlands more than pay for the municipal services they require, while taxes on residential use, on average, fail to cover costs.
Protection of the Environment
Well-managed agricultural land supplies important non-market goods and services for our environment. Farmlands provide food and habitat for wildlife, help control flooding, protect wetlands and watersheds and maintain air quality. They can absorb and filter wastewater and provide groundwater recharge.
Information on this page was drawn from the following sources:
- Economic Benefits of Land Conservation - Trust for Public Lands, 2007.
- American Farmland Trust (www.farmland.org)
- 2006 Census of Agriculture. Statistics Canada.