Short-Term Thinking at Queen's Park Will Have Consequences for Ontario Agriculture
February 1, 2023 | Martin Straathof, Executive Director of Ontario Farmland Trust
Every farmer is well aware that decisions made today will have an impact on what’s to come. Crop rotations, breeding schedules, fertilizer application, and business loans – to name a few – are carefully considered to ensure the long-term viability of a farm operation. These decisions don’t just impact a quarterly finance report. These decisions have implications years down the road. Those in agriculture know what it means to think long-term.
Unfortunately, our agricultural industry seems to be up against political short-term decisions that clearly do not have the best interest of our regional agricultural systems; however, just like farming, these decisions are going to have long-term, intergenerational implications for Ontario farmers, food security, and community resiliency.
Right now, in this province we are seeing political decisions that are repealing an Agricultural Preserve – a preserve meaning something that is to be protected and maintained. The province is opening up part of the Greenbelt for development and suggesting that replacing those lands hundreds of kilometres away somehow offset this decision. We need our politicians to understand that is not how agricultural systems work. We’re also seeing many other changes in land-use planning processes that would accelerate the rate of farmland loss and make it more difficult for farms to remain viable.
Today, Ontario’s farmland totals 11.8 million acres. The 2021 Agricultural Census taught us we are losing 319 acres of farmland every day. At that rate of loss, we will have paved over our last acre of farmland within 100 years. So, at a time when Ontario is losing an unsustainable amount of farmland, what we should be seeing is our province adopting innovative policies and programs that would prevent further farmland loss, improve agricultural viability, and meet the need for housing infrastructure. Instead we are seeing a regression in our community planning practices that will likely accelerate the rate of loss. Yes - planning processes can be improved and we need more housing. But why is it that our best solution is at the expense of our agricultural communities and cutting off future generations’ ability to feed themselves?
The Ontario Farmland Trust, in collaboration with other Ontario agricultural organizations, including the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario, have been advocating for an agricultural systems approach to land-use planning that would prevent farmland fragmentation. We support Minimum Distance Separation to minimize conflicts between farm operations and residential areas. And we want to see a variety of housing options in rural communities to support farm workers, youth-retention, aging demographics, and newcomers. But we also need to prevent speculative investment that is driving up the price of farmland making it unattainable for the next generation.
It’s vital that we protect our remaining farmland so that Ontario has a strong, viable, and sustainable supply of food products grown, harvested, and processed right here at home. With responsible land use planning, it is possible to balance the needs of our communities and agricultural land base. I encourage folks to go out and speak to your local representatives to make it known that you expect them to act on farmland preservation and to see farmland as a part of building resilient and complete communities.
Head over to ontariofarmlandtrust.ca for more information on farmland preservation and please consider donating to our organization. As a charitable land trust, we are Ontario’s only conservation organization with a provincial-wide mission to protect Ontario’s farmland.
Martin Straathof is Executive Director of Ontario Farmland Trust (OFT). The CFFO Commentary represents the opinions of the writer and does not necessarily represent CFFO policy. The CFFO Commentary is heard on CFCO Chatham, CKXS Chatham, CKNX Wingham, and CHLP Listowel.