The Ontario Federation of Agriculture is sounding the alarm as a recent census from Statistics Canada showed Ontario is losing 319 acres of farmland every day.
“While urban growth isn’t the only cause of farmland loss, it can’t be denied that development is putting intense pressure on Ontario farmland. Urban development is leap-frogging the Greenbelt and straining against urban-rural boundaries,” said OFA President Peggy Brekveld.
Both Gray and Bruce counties feature some of the fastest-growing areas in the province. The Blue Mountains population has grown more than 33 per cent since 2016, which was the second-highest mark in Canada for population growth between 2016 and 2021.
The Owen Sound and Port Elgin area were recently ranked ninth in Canada’s Top-25 growth cities according to the 2021 U-Haul Growth Index, which is compiled according to the net gain of one-way U-Haul trucks arriving in a city or province , versus departing from that city or province in a year.
As the demand for homes continues to grow, and developers buy up chunks of land, Brekveld said better farmland protection legislation is needed.
“It might look like a small piece of land. Just one farmer’s field or a few blocks and you think, well that’s not so much, but at the end of the day it all adds up,” she said. “It’s not something to ignore. We need long-term land-use planning. How are we going to feed our cities and communities in the future? How are we going to ensure Canada or Ontario has the wheat, vegetables, etcetera, we need to be healthy people?”
The 319 acres per day figure was calculated based on a comparison of the total farm area in the province in the 2016 Census of Agriculture (12.4 million acres) versus the 2021 Census of Agriculture (11.7 million acres). The difference of 582,392 acres is divided by five to reach an average annual loss of 116,478.4 acres per year. Divide that by 365 days to 319.12 acres per day.
The figure is a sharp increase from the 175 acres of daily average loss that was recorded in the 2016 Census of Agriculture.
“One thing people often forget is cities were built where there is food, water and shelter, so it actually makes sense cities are close to farmland, but the challenge is to make sure the farmland is protected,” Brekveld said.
The 319 acres per-day loss of farmland is the equivalent of nine family farms each week, the OFA said in a media release. The OFA said only about five per cent of the province’s land is suitable for growing food or raising livestock as the northern reaches are limited by the Canadian Shield and climate and cities and towns cover much of the southern part of the province.
Brekveld said farmers are trying to increase efficiency in their operations to produce more food with less land, but there’s a limit given nearly all agriculture is land-based and food needs space to grow.
“For years farms have been working toward being more efficient, more environmentally friendly, and more sustainable on the land they have – but there is a limit to it,” she said. “Farmers are progressive and looking forward to trying and doing things better, but at a certain point, there is only so much you can do. Almost all agriculture is land-based, even greenhouses need space, and we will never grow wheat inside of a building.”
As well as trying to secure farmland protection through government intervention and legislation, Brekveld said consumers can make a difference by supporting local farms to ensure farming is a viable lifestyle for future generations.
“Buy local food. If a farm is viable there is a better chance it will remain as farmland and stay in families or attract new producers. If they’re able to make a living and it’s exciting others will see that as it transitions to the next generation,” she said.