The Ontario Farmland Trust (OFT) is calling for an independent appraisal be conducted to determine the value of the public interest within the Duffins Rouge Agricultural Preserve.

This comes in response to Bill 39, the Better Municipal Governance Act, 2022, which proposes to repeal of the Duffins Rouge Agricultural Preserve Act. If the Ontario government proceeds with Bill 39, it would negatively impact some of Ontario’s best farmland, cutting away at one of the most important sectors of the economy.

Based on the 2021 Census of Agriculture, Ontario is losing 319 acres of farmland every day.

The Duffins Rouge Agricultural Preserve includes about 4,700 acres of prime agricultural lands in north Pickering. Pickering’s City Council also opposed Bill 39 and voted unanimously against the Province’s proposal to repeal the Duffins Rouge Agricultural Preserve Act.

“We should be concerned about how repealing this act is going to affect Ontario’s resiliency in the very near future,” Martin Straathof, OFT Executive Director said. “We need to see the government protecting the public interest in these lands.”

Lands that compose the Pickering Agricultural Preserve were expropriated from farm families in the 1970s for a proposed airport. It took decades to realize that expropriating these lands was a mistake, so they were to be returned to the agricultural community.

The lands were returned at a discounted rate, approximately $7,000/acre, because there was public interest in protecting those lands for agriculture. This discount was a public investment that was meant to be protected in perpetuity by conservation easements and the Duffins Rouge Agricultural Preserve Act. Now that public investment could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars, if not more, and it is seemingly being given to developers.

“We have many other paths we could take for urban development instead of allowing urban sprawl to take place,” Straathof said. “The government should be trying to protect farmland and solve a housing crisis. Not one over the other.”

Straathof expects farmland fragmentation to occur from the passing of Bill 39, which will negatively impact the agriculture in the region and beyond.

OFT recommends the Province of Ontario, the City of Pickering, local farm organizations, and the housing sector discuss innovative solutions to the housing crisis that prioritize the protection of farmland, natural areas, and the wellbeing of Ontarians.

OFT regularly provides comments on proposed changes to public land use planning policy that may negatively impact farmland and the agricultural sector. Read more of our policy submissions here.