Food Production Must Weigh in the Calculations: Updating the Projection Methodology Guideline

September 24, 2021 | Suzanne Armstrong

Food Production Must Weigh in the Calculations: Updating the Projection Methodology Guideline

The Ontario government is looking to update the Projection Methodology Guideline for all municipalities outside the Greater Golden Horseshoe (GGH). The Projection Methodology Guideline, at its heart, is a method for municipalities to calculate land needs for housing and employment based on population projections.

Having a single Projection Methodology Guideline for the whole province outside the GGH means that the guidelines need to cover a diverse range of regions with different characteristics. From an agricultural perspective, some areas of prime agricultural land surrounding large settlement areas like London or Ottawa experience significant development pressure, while many small rural settlements are looking to expand economic development opportunities. Some regions of the province have significant seasonal populations of farm workers, while other areas will not experience this population shift and accompanying housing need.

The current Projection Methodology Guideline, published in 1995, holds certain unspoken assumptions. While acknowledging the provincial interests to protect farmland and vital greenspaces, it assumes primacy of land use for housing and employment needs. This overemphasis on the primacy of land use for housing and employment continues to come at the cost of significant loss of our farmland and greenspaces.

The current Provincial Policy Statement, 2020 does have provisions for the protection of farmland. However, unlike for housing and employment needs, there is no process required to calculate the food-production needs of the population or how these needs will be met now and in the future. Were calculations on food needs required, it would give a much better assessment of the value of our productive farmland.

We need to more fully consider our provincial food security and the economic and environmental benefits farmland provides. This is not empty land waiting to be converted to housing or employment land. These are working landscapes, providing vital needs for Ontarians, contributing to our economy and to our environment.

It is not only our highest classes of farmland that deserve protection. All arable land has the capacity to produce food. Classes 4-7 land are often ideal for livestock production and can be improved for crop production through good stewardship. Microclimates for growing particular crops are found in different regions of the province beyond those currently defined as specialty crop areas. The CFFO has long argued for the importance of continued protection of the highest quality farmland by region, even where that farmland may be defined as class 4 or lower. This helps to preserve the local food-producing capacity of each region and to preserve our overall food security as a province.

In our response to the government consultation on the Projection Methodology Guidelines, the CFFO emphasized the importance of protection of farmland and supporting the vitality of farm businesses through the projection methodology process. We highlighted promotion of economic development opportunities in rural areas as well as consideration for the particular housing needs of seasonal populations of farm workers. We requested consistent mapping of prime agricultural areas across the province. We also reiterated our call for the province to set regulations that would not allow settlement expansion into prime farmland.

As a society, it is time we recognized food as a basic human need alongside housing and meaningful work. We need to strike a better balance. Our food-producing farmland, once lost, is lost forever.

Suzanne Armstrong is Director of Policy & Research for the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario. The CFFO Commentary represents the opinions of the writer and does not necessarily represent CFFO policy. The CFFO Commentary is heard weekly on CFCO Chatham, CKXS Chatham, CKNX Wingham, and CHLP Listowel.