Ontario Farmland: A Unique, Strategic Resource
Containing over half of Canada’s Class 1 soils, and much of the country’s Class 1-3 Prime Agricultural Land, Ontario farmland is a strategic resource and the single most important agricultural resource in Canada (FPRP, 2004). Combined with Southern Ontario’s moderate climate, this land can produce a greater diversity of crops than anywhere else in Canada – over 200 different commodities, including tender fruit and vegetable crops, grains and oilseeds (OMRI, 2011). This land and diversity of production provides the foundation for Ontario’s agriculture and agri-food industries which provide 700,000 jobs and contribute $34 billion to the provincial economy annually (OMRI, 2011).
Yet farmland area in Ontario totals only 12.67 million acres – less than 5% of Ontario’s entire land area (Statistics Canada, 2011). The vast majority of this land is found in Southern Ontario, which is also home to over 1/3 of Canada’s population. Ongoing population growth and urbanization is fueling the conversion of much of the country’s best agricultural land to non-farming uses. 1/3 of Canada’s Class 1 farmland can be seen from the top of the CN tower in downtown Toronto, and a large portion of this is now covered by houses, industry and highways (FPRP, 2006).
Loss of Farmland is a Growing Concern
Between 1976 and 2011, 2.8 million acres, or 18%, of Ontario’s farmland is no longer being farmed – much of this land resource urbanized or converted to some other non-agricultural use (Statistics Canada, 2011). This is the amount of land required to feed to the City of Toronto’s entire population (OFT, 2012).
The latest 2011 Census of Agriculture data indicates that we continue to lose over 350 acres of farmland every day in Ontario. Once farmland is designated or developed for non-farming uses it is unlikely that it can be restored to productive agriculture. It can take thousands of years to produce just one centimeter of new topsoil needed to sustain food and farm production.
Benefits of Protecting Farmland
Economy: Farmland supports a wealth of agriculture and food-related economic activity in both rural and urban communities; agriculture and agri-food industries are Ontario’s largest economic driver. Strategic protection of Ontario’s agricultural land resources contributes to sustainable economic development, job creation, investment and growth.
Local Food: Protecting Ontario farmland also contributes to the ability to produce local food and achieve food self-sufficiency for a growing population. Currently Ontario has reached a ‘tipping point’ – if we continue to lose our farmland and our population continues to grow, Ontario will lose the ability to be food self-sufficient within the next 20 years and will become more dependent of food imports (OFT, 2012).
Sustainable Communities: Farmland protection is part of fiscally-responsible planning for our communities. Agricultural land requires fewer municipal services than other land uses. Many municipalities that have permitted urban sprawl in the past are struggling to pay the bills today as they manage extensive infrastructure and demands for municipal services spread over too large an area. Planning for complete communities and more efficient use of urban land are becoming priorities now as municipalities shift away from the outdated model of expensive suburban sprawl.
Environment: Another benefit to farmland preservation is the protection and provision of associated natural and cultural heritage, clean air and water and wildlife habitat. Farmland and agriculture also provide us with sense of place and are part of the landscapes that shape our identity as Ontarians and Canadians.
Current trends in of farmland loss in Ontario are not sustainable. New solutions and collaborative approaches to protect and preserve farmland for future generations are needed. The Ontario Farmland Trust works together with agricultural, land conservation and government partners to advance the permanent protection of farmland in Ontario by:
- Facilitating farmland easement agreements and land donations with farmers and other partners that provide lasting protection for unique lands under threat;
- Supporting policy development for improved farmland protection; and
- Leading research and education to advance farmland protection and related policy development
Farmland Preservation Research Project (FPRP). 2004. Farmland in Ontario – Are we losing a valuable resource? Centre for Land and Water Stewardship, University of Guelph.