GUELPH, ON [November 24, 2015] – Farmland in Ontario should be recognized as a permanent feature with economic and ecosystem benefits, according to a new joint report released today by Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) and Environmental Defence.
Farmers and environmentalists don’t always agree, but OFA and Environmental Defence jointly released the new report, Farmland at risk: Why land-use planning needs improvements for a healthy agricultural future in the Greater Golden Horseshoe. The report finds that 75% of the best farmland in the Toronto Metropolitan Area is at risk of being paved over, and highlights the challenges farmers face and the need to better protect farmland in the face of the region’s anticipated population growth.
“Seventy-five per cent of prime farmland in the Toronto Metropolitan Area lies outside the protected Greenbelt, leaving it vulnerable to sprawl. Once soil is paved over, it’s lost forever,” says Tim Gray, Executive Director of Environmental Defence. “It’s time for a new perspective that sees agriculture as an essential component of our economy and cultural heritage, rather than being considered an afterthought.”
“If we want to support a local food economy, we need to give farmers certainty that their land is protected and valued,” says Don McCabe, President of Ontario Federation of Agriculture. “The current provincial land-use planning rules see farmland as development land in waiting. This discourages investment in farm businesses and fails to recognize agriculture as a long-term economic activity.”
The report identifies key recommendations for changes that are needed to support a robust agricultural economy in the region and accommodate future growth.
Among its recommendations, the report urges the Ontario government to:
- Adopt a “positive planning” approach that better integrates agricultural concerns into land-use decision-making, permanently protects areas of high agricultural value, and supports agriculture as the pre-eminent land use.
- Freeze urban boundaries in the Greater Golden Horseshoe (GGH) until 2031 and possibly 2041, as there is more than enough land within existing municipal boundaries to accommodate forecasted growth.
- Tie allocation of provincial infrastructure funds to municipalities meeting intensification targets.
- Require municipalities to conduct Agricultural Impact assessments when planning strategies affect agricultural areas.
Agriculture in the GGH contributes $11 billion annually to Ontario’s economy. It also supplies $1.6 billion in environmental benefits per year including absorption of carbon pollution, water filtration, protection against erosion and runoff control. But nearly 300,000 acres of prime farmland in the GGH has been lost over the past 30 years. Additional loss of farmland will have significant economic, environmental and quality-of-life impacts.
“The current review of the Greenbelt Plan and Growth Plan is an opportunity to move away from a 1950s car-centred, city-building model to smarter growth planning that can provide needed housing options, support the agricultural industry and the increasing demand for locally grown food,” Gray says. “Building up, not out, will enable us to protect farmland and build vibrant cities connected by transit.”
Both organizations agree that if carefully planned and smartly managed, growth can present an opportunity to build a more prosperous, healthy and sustainable Ontario, with vibrant urban and rural communities that offer more (and better) options to live, work, and play while protecting our access to local food sources and supporting the farming sector.
About Environmental Defence (www.environmentaldefence.ca): Environmental Defence is Canada’s most effective environmental action organization. We challenge and inspire change in government, business and people to ensure a greener, healthier and prosperous life for all.
About Ontario Federation of Agriculture (www.ofa.on.ca) is Canada’s largest voluntary farm organization representing the interest of Ontario farm families. As a farmer-led organization we understand farm issues and we champion the interests of Ontario’s farming community with governments and the public. We are the voice of Ontario farmers for a sustainable farming and food sector.
For more information:
Ontario Federation of Agriculture