Opinion: Protecting agricultural land key to future food production and processing
By Mark Reusser
When we lose agricultural land to urban sprawl, it is lost forever.
By Mark Reusser
Preserving agricultural land for the purpose of food production and processing is a key priority for the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA). That was the message that was conveyed in OFA’s recent submission to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing regarding the proposed amendments to Ontario’s Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe area.
As the population continues to increase across the province, Ontario consumers depend on a strong, reliable value chain to produce, process and distribute food products. Without access to arable land, we are jeopardizing the local agri-food system. Preserving and protecting agricultural land benefits all Ontarians.
Ontario cannot sustain the current loss of agricultural land while continuing to produce food, fibre and fuel with limited and declining resources. Based on the latest Census, agricultural land in the province has been lost at a rate of 63,940 acres per year.
The continued loss of agricultural land has the potential to threaten food production and processing in the Greater Golden Horseshoe area. Due to the significant amount of food processing facilities in the region, a steady decline of available land puts the long-term viability and security of these facilities at risk. It also negatively impacts employment and the capacity to provide consumers with locally grown food, while also mitigating the effects of a changing climate.
Ontario’s agriculture and agri-food processing sectors are the leading economic engines for the province. In 2019, the agriculture and agri-food sector, from field to fork, contributed $47.28 billion to Ontario’s economy and supported 860,494 jobs.
Projecting population and employment growth is one of the many challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. The proposed amendments to Ontario’s Growth Plan include population and employment forecasts that fail to take into account how the provincial economy will rebound and recover from the impacts of COVID-19. OFA recommends these projections be recalculated to ensure they accurately reflect Ontario’s post-pandemic economic recovery. The submission also proposes postponing implementing the population projections for 18-24 months to allow for a better indication as to what post-COVID recovery might look like. There’s no urgent need to make these proposed changes now.
The Greater Golden Horseshoe already faces rapid growth challenges including sprawling growth, traffic grid lock, high housing costs and environmental degradation. Rather than focusing solely on the Greater Golden Horseshoe for growth and development, OFA recommends adopting a growth plan model that allows for distributed economic growth and development. This approach would distribute the benefits of economic growth and development across all regions of the province.
The continuation of converting prime agricultural land for urban development will negatively impact our most valuable resources – soil and water. This issue not only extends to the Greater Golden Horseshoe area, but across the province as well. Less than 5% of Ontario’s land base can support agricultural production of any kind. In the Greater Golden Horseshoe, much of the agricultural land contains our most productive Class 1, 2 or 3 soils. Land capable of supporting agricultural activity ensures a safe, sustainable supply of food, fuel and fibre for Ontario. Furthermore, the loss of these resources will greatly impact locally produced food and our food security.
OFA strongly believes that the intensification of residential development within the existing urban footprint, in the context of complete and liveable communities, along with the distribution of economic development province-wide is the solution. It will boost economic growth, create new jobs, provide new affordable housing options, ensure food security, and contribute to environmental stewardship. This is positive for rural communities and alleviates growth pressures on the Greater Golden Horseshoe. New investments in rural communities will grow existing businesses, attract new businesses, and boost regional economic development, including access to stable high-speed internet and natural gas. The time is now to examine growth and development beyond the Greater Golden Horseshoe to benefit all Ontarians.
Ontario farmers are proud to cultivate some of the most fertile and productive soils in the world. OFA is working for Farms and Food Forever. When we lose agricultural land to urban sprawl, it is lost forever. All Ontarians benefit from the economic and environmental benefits productive land and water resources bring to our province.