by Peggy Brekveld,
President, Ontario Federation of Agriculture
The value of local Ontario food goes beyond the amazing taste of DeBruin’s Greenhouse tomatoes, Thunder Oak cheese, and My-Pride Farm veal – a few of my local favourites. It is also about the importance of food security, its economic impact, and our regional identity. To have local food, we need farmers and growers to take on the challenge of raising crops and livestock. We also need to quote our licence plate slogan, “Places to Grow” in Ontario. The importance of farmland preservation and long-term land use planning has been highlighted in our current pandemic.
The COVID-19 health crisis has forced the world to press pause on our normally busy lives and re-evaluate what is most important as a society. Amid challenging obstacles brought on by the pandemic, consumers now more than ever before are looking to source locally grown produce, meats and dairy products. This newfound demand for local has proven its longevity. However, for Ontario farmers to maintain the supply the demand for local products, farmland needs to be preserved and urban sprawl contained. Long-term land use planning needs to focus on protecting agricultural land to ensure we have the resources available to continue producing food for the future. Otherwise, we’re left asking the question, where will Ontario source its food products from in years to come.
The Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) believes that agricultural land is a finite and shrinking resource we require in order to effectively produce food, fibre and fuel. Urban sprawl has threatened the sustainability and viability of our sector for decades. To put the problem into perspective, from 1996-2016, Ontario lost 1.5 million acres of farmland to development, at a daily rate loss of 175 acres per day. According to OMAFRA’s 2016 census data, the average Ontario farm is 249 acres with many of our farms being family-owned and operated. Our province loses an average of five farms per week to development in an effort to keep pace with Ontario’s growing population.
When the pandemic first hit, the main concern amongst Ontarians was that our food supply chain would collapse, resulting in shortages and skyrocketed prices for consumers. Our sector rose to the challenge and proved that Ontario’s agri-food supply chain is strong and resilient. At OFA’s 2020 virtual annual meeting, Premier Doug Ford identified how important the agri-food sector is to the provincial economy and how instrumental the industry will be for solidifying economic recovery post-pandemic.
Farmers continue to be the definition of innovation, producing more yield with less inputs. However, the reality is that farming in Ontario will always require arable land and an environment that supports the growth of our more than 200 diverse commodities. The rate at which our province is losing agricultural land is not sustainable, especially with the demand to increase the production of food, fibre and fuel for an ever-growing population, as our finite resources continue to diminish.
Local food production and processing is extremely vital to the economy, providing a significant economic impact both locally and provincially. From field-to-fork there are many important contributors along the food supply chain, and available land is vital to ensuring we have enough food processing facilities to keep up with demand. These facilities are integral to our food security.
Preserving farmland can go hand-in-hand with housing needs. It can include rejuvenating and renewing our cities, as well as infrastructure investment in our rural hubs. Ontario farmers need the government’s support to contain urban sprawl and to keep our domestic agri-food sector strong. Less than 5% of Ontario’s land base can support agricultural production of any kind. In 2020, OFA expressed concerns to Ontario’s Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing regarding the recent proliferation of Minister’s Zoning Orders. We cannot afford to prioritize urban development over that of farmland. Protecting and preserving farmland is the only solution to ensuring Farms and Food Forever.
Protecting and preserving Ontario’s agricultural land for the purpose of growing, harvesting and producing food has and always will be a main priority of our organization. The OFA will continue to advocate on behalf of our 38,000 farm families to ensure that farmland is not only preserved, but that farming is sustainable and profitable for the next generation of your family.