Last week, OFA President Peggy Brekveld presented to Ontario’s Standing Committee on Heritage, Infrastructure and Cultural Policy regarding consideration of Bill 39, Better Municipal Governance Act, 2022. The message that was delivered can be read below.
Remarks from Peggy Brekveld, President of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture
Ontario Federation of Agriculture represents over 38,000 farmers across the province. They, in turn, represent $47 billion dollars in provincial annual GDP from field to fork, and over 200 different products. Which is one heck of a feast of flavours! Our vision is Farms and Food Forever.
Today, I will comment on only a portion of Bill 39, Better Municipal Governance Act – the portion called the Duffins Rouge Agricultural Preserve Repeal Act. And while I am here specifically for Ontario Federation of Agriculture, our affiliates the Durham Region Federation of Agriculture and the York Region Federation of Agriculture were also consulted for our submission. In short, OFA, DRFA, and YRFA are opposed to the repealing of the Duffins Rouge Agricultural Protection Act (DRAPA) to “assist in removing barriers to building much-needed housing.” DRAPA should remain intact.
There is only one landscape. And everything has to fit. That includes the very cornerstones of life – food, water and shelter. When we consider the landscape, there are some pieces that are moveable, and some things that are not. Things that are not really moveable include: lakes, rivers and the Great Canadian Shield. It also includes farmland.
Less than 5% of the Ontario landscape is arable land. The best of it is often located next to cities. And we are a part of1 of only 7 regions globally that have the ability to export more food than we import. Ontario contains 52% of Canada’s prime agricultural land. In other words…
Farmland is precious. And it needs special consideration.
Statistically, “the Duffins” is 5200 acres of farmland, bordered on three sides by urban development (Toronto is just south, and City of Markham is Northwest, and City of Pickering/Ajax is in the northeastern/east). It may seem like a green island among the cityscape.
To the west, though, is Rouge National Urban Park. This is significant. To the locals in Durham and York, “the Duffins” has been identified as an essential piece to help build the continuity of the agricultural land base. It is also important to note that while it is surrounded by urban development, the agri-food sector in York and other GTA municipalities, the bakeries and food processors who use these products, is significant. Having the farms close to these assets is critical for economic success and the industry’s potential to grow.
At OFA, we often talk about the importance of agricultural systems. Places where the farming is a continuous landscape. Such places make it easier to farm. It means that farmers can plant and harvest crops with less challenges of things such as traffic. It means that supporting businesses such as grain elevators or feed companies can be accessed with few barriers. It means that the combine can go from field to field with ease. It includes those end users that I talked about earlier.
The system can even create more ecological goods and services, such as wildlife habitat, since it is a larger area.
The Duffins and the Rouge Park regions together make a viable agricultural system, almost completely made up of Class 1 land – the best for agriculture. The Duffins is part of a larger regional agricultural system creating a contiguously protected area. Farmers depend on the availability of land in proximity to their operations to be able to farm more efficiently, safely, and viably.
In just the York and Durham regions, there are ____ farmers that will be affected by the repeal of the Duffins Rouge Agricultural Protections Act.
The Duffins is also a part of the Golden Horseshoe region. The Golden Horseshoe is home to nearly 5,000, or 10%, of Ontario’s farms that generate over $2 billion in farm cash receipts annually. This area also has the most urban pressure for development. Although there are over 900,000 acres of farmland in the Golden Horseshoe, it has declined by over 4% in only the last 5 years. If we continue to lose 40,000 acres of farmland in the Golden Horseshoe each census, in 25 years, it will all be gone. That is likely inside of my lifetime, and likely most of yours.
Why does this matter to Ontario?
It is about food security. If you ate today, a farmer grew it. Ontario farmers are feeding Ontario, Canada and the world.
Saying that, OFA acknowledges that Ontario needs to build more houses, affordable houses in particular. We really do believe that we come with ideas and examples of how to address this and still protect farmland that will feed us.
It includes incentifying cities to build in and up, to renew and review. It is about building more housing around transit lines, and building the type of housing that we actually need – understanding what our population dynamics actually look like.
Only last spring, the Housing Affordability Task Force stated that “a shortage of land isn’t the cause of the problem. Land is available, both inside the existing built-up areas and on undeveloped land outside greenbelts.” OFA, along with DRFA and YRFA, encourages the provincial government to listen to their experts and explore other avenues to address.
More robust protection against development on agricultural land combined with fixed, permanent urban boundaries and pushing urban density and intensification requirements will achieve community development and farmland protection objectives.
The last thing I will share is a reminder from one of my fellow OFA board members. Farmland is a finite resource. But it is also perpetual. Meaning if we protect farmland, take care of it, we can grow food for generations. We can continue to feed Ontario, Canada and the world. It looks like Farms and Food Forever.