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Farmland: A Prerequisite for Farmers, Food - and Agri-food Policy: Policy Brief

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This is policy brief regarding farmland and the integration of different public policies into agricultural reserves or agricultural zones across Canada. It one of the key results of a major national research project led by Dr. D.J. Connell of UNBC, a project which was financed by an SSHRC Insight Grant (from 2013 to 2017).
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FARMLAND
A Prerequisite for Farmers, Food
– and Agri-food Policy
August, 2016 POLICY BRIEF
SUMMARY
Canada's agriculture, agri-food, and agri-based products sector is a
cornerstone of the Canadian economy1 and food security – and farmland
is its foundation.
Current federal policy does not refer to the importance of protecting
Canada’s agricultural land base as a resource for the sector. This
omission is a critical gap in current federal policy.
In spite of forty years of efforts by provincial and municipal
governments, Canada is losing farmland, especially some of its most
productive farmland.
The current assortment of provincial policies and approaches, many of
which are moderate to weak, is not enough.
National leadership and provincial collaboration are needed to better
protect farmland as an indispensable resource for the sustainable
development of the agricultural sector.
RECOMMENDATIONS
Through established legislative, regulatory, and Cabinet processes,
AAFC should make a clear, direct statement of policy to protect
Canada’s farmland as a national interest.
- In collaboration with provincial and territorial governments, AAFC
should ensure that protecting farmland is a foundation of the next
federal-provincial-territorial agricultural policy framework.
- In collaboration with other federal ministries (e.g., Health Canada),
AAFC should ensure that protecting farmland is a foundation of a
national food policy.
The Privy Council should build provincial collaborations around the
federal statement of interest to protect farmland.
AAFC should establish a national land use monitoring program in order
to track the changed uses and loss of agricultural lands.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
The authors are members of a national research project to study principles and beneficial practices of agricultural land use planning in
Canada. The aim of the project is to formulate policy recommendations that will protect farmland and promote farming as the highest
and best use of these lands. The project started in 2013 and will be completed in 2017. For more information about the project please
visit the project website at www.unbc.ca/agplanning, or contact Dr. David J. Connell, Project Lead (250-960-5835 or
david.connell@unbc.ca). Funding for the project was provided by a SSHRC Insight Grant (#435-2013-1726).
Authors
Dr. David J. Connell,
Univ. of Northern British Columbia
Dr. Wayne Caldwell,
Univ. of Guelph
Dr. Chris Bryant,
Univ. de Montréal
Dr. Greg Cameron,
Dalhousie Univ.
Dr. Tom Johnston,
Univ. of Lethbridge
Dr. Matias Margulis,
Univ. of Stirling
FARMLAND: A Prerequisite for Farmers, Food – and Agri-food Policy
2
INTRODUCTION
Our main message is that AAFC must recognize and affirm that protecting
farmland is a prerequisite of sound agriculture and food policy.
Farmland is an indispensable resource as Canada adapts to shifting
domestic and global drivers, including market volatility, urbanization,
climatic disruptions to global food supplies, and growing demand for local
food and farmland amenities.
Yet, neither of the past Growing Forward
frameworks mentions the need to protect Canada’s
agricultural land base as the foundation for federal-
provincial-territorial agricultural policy, nor does the
Calgary Statement for the Next Policy Framework.
The omission to protect farmland as an
indispensable resource represents a critical gap
in current federal policy.
Impacts on farmland are plain to see. Agricultural
land has been lost to residential, commercial, and
industrial developments and used for country
residential estates, golf courses, gravel pits, wind
turbines, oil and gas well sites, and solar ‘farms,’
among other uses.
The loss and changed use of farmland is often
invisible to policy for lack of timely, accurate,
and reliable data.
At best, the available data present only a partial picture of farmland loss in
Canada. The last comprehensive national review of agricultural land was
reported in 20052, but based on Census data with significant limitations.
The most recent estimates (from 2013) of land use changes at a national
scale are based on a special tabulation using satellite imagery to measure
ecosystem goods and services3,4.
“Despite Canada’s size,
dependable agricultural land
is a scarce resource in this country”
Rural and Small Town Canada Analysis Bulletin, 2005.5
KEY FACTS ABOUT LOSS OF FARMLAND
IN CANADA
Only 7% of Canada’s land base is used for
agriculture6
Only 5% of its most productive land is free from
severe constraints to crop production7.
By 2001, about one-half of Canada’s urbanized
land use was located on dependable*
agricultural land8
From 2000 to 20119, the settled area on
dependable agricultural land increased by 19%
From 2001 to 201110, the farm area located on
dependable agricultural land has declined by
969,802 hectares
FARMLAND: A Prerequisite for Farmers, Food – and Agri-food Policy
3
FARMLAND PROTECTION IN CANADA
The loss of farmland became a prominent concern of land use planning in
the late 1960s and early 1970s during the rapid expansion of suburbs into
rural areas. Related issues include the presence of non-farms uses,
fragmentation of the land base, and concurrent farm uses such as energy
developments. All of these issues affect the availability of farmland and
increase pressures on farmland prices.
Canada’s farmland is highly exposed to more
conversion and non-farm uses.
Over the past forty years, provinces have adopted
different approaches for agricultural land use
planning. The primary legislative mechanisms
include an agricultural zone with restricted non-farm
uses, a land commission to manage agricultural
lands, a statement of provincial interest (SPI) in
agricultural land, and a provincial land use policy
(PLUP) for agricultural land. However, most
provinces do not use all of the mechanisms available
to them (see Tables 2 and 3 in the appendix).
Most of Canada’s provinces have only
moderate to weak legislative frameworksa.
Only Québec, British Columbia, and Ontario
have very strong legislative frameworks to
protect farmlandb.
Many provinces have chosen not to protect its agricultural land base
to the extent that they can through the mechanisms available to
them.
Even for provinces that have enacted Statements of Provincial Interest (SPI)
to protect farmland, this commitment is undermined by not integrating
public priorities with lower jurisdictions or failing to minimise uncertainty
by using ambiguous language or having inconsistent policies.
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a At the time of the analysis, New Brunswick and PEI were developing new legislation that, if approved, would improve the strength
of their framework. Nova Scotia is also reviewing its provincial agricultural land use policy.
b Note that we recognize differences within British Columbia and Ontario. In 2014, BC divided its Agricultural Land Reserve into
two zones, which introduced two sets of rules for governing agricultural lands in the province. In Ontario, the province is covered by
the Provincial Policy Statements (PPS); some regions are also covered by more restrictive policies (e.g., Greenbelt Act, Growth Plan).
LAND USE PLANNING
for AGRICULTURE
As a matter of policy, protecting Canada’s farmland
is primarily a concern of land use planning, for
which responsibility is distributed among federal,
provincial, and municipal governments. While
provinces retain jurisdiction to establish provincial
land use policy and to assert provincial interests,
such as farmland protection, they confer most land
use planning responsibilities to municipalities for
them to manage the orderly development of their
areas, including agricultural lands.
In addition to agricultural land use planning, other
legislative mechanisms, such as right-to-farm
legislation and preferential tax policies, are also used
to support farmers and maintain the farmland base.
FARMLAND: A Prerequisite for Farmers, Food – and Agri-food Policy
4
RECOMMENDATIONS
RECOMMENDATION 1
Through established legislative, regulatory, and Cabinet processes, AAFC should make a clear, direct
statement of policy to protect Canada’s farmland as a national interest.
The relative importance of the farmland base is best understood from a national perspective rather than from
provincial or municipal perspectives. Although local governments have the greatest level of responsibility for
land use planning, it is widely acknowledged that they must contend directly with competing interests. Their
high dependence on the municipal tax base leads to decisions that often favour urban development over
preserving agricultural land. This structural constraint can be countered by a provincial interest to protect
farmland. A strong provincial framework ensures that local policies are set within the context of broader public
priorities. By extension, a national statement of interest in protecting the agricultural land base will help to
align provincial policies with national public priorities.
A federal commitment to protect farmland must be integrated in current policy development. Therefore,
In collaboration with provincial and territorial governments, AAFC should ensure that protecting farmland
is a foundation of the next federal-provincial-territorial agricultural policy framework;
In collaboration with other federal ministries (e.g., Health Canada), AAFC should ensure that protecting
farmland is a foundation of a national food policy.
RECOMMENDATION 2
Privy Council to build provincial collaborations around the federal statement of interest.
Although land use planning is a concern of all levels of government, responsibility for land use planning is the
primary responsibility of municipal governments. The legislative frameworks of provincial governments both
enable and constrain what municipal governments can do. In addition, national leadership to build provincial
collaborations is needed to better protect farmland as an indispensable resource for the sustainable growth of the
agricultural sector.
RECOMMENDATION 3
AAFC should invest in a national land use monitoring program in order to track the changed uses and
loss of agricultural lands.
No effort to protect farmland – at any level of government – can be done effectively without a national land use
monitoring program. Thus, we recommend that AAFC invest in special data collection and analysis, ideally
using remote sensing, in order to monitor changed uses and losses of agricultural lands. The lack of current,
accurate, and reliable data is evident in this policy brief. As noted, the last account of agricultural lands in
Canada was published in 2005. Although this is the best account available, even this measure has recognized
limitations.
A viable agricultural sector must also be supported by strategic planning at all levels in order to maximize
benefits to society from the multiple ecological and cultural values of agriculture. Corresponding programs are
required to secure the financial viability of farming for large, medium, and small operators, as well as support
sustainable agriculture and food systems. For example, economic reform of development charges,
infrastructure investments, property tax reform, agri-food economic development and incentives for farmland
protection are also needed.
FARMLAND: A Prerequisite for Farmers, Food – and Agri-food Policy
5
NATIONAL FORUM
June 20-21, 2016
Ottawa, Ontario
An unprecedented event took place in Ottawa this year. For the first time,
land use planners representing all of Canada’s provinces came together at a
national forum to discuss provincial policies for protecting farmland. The
purpose of the forum was to critically assess current policy and practices and
to discuss what needs to be done to better protect Canada’s agricultural land
base. New gaps and opportunities to collaborate emerged from the meeting.
Building capacity for agricultural land use planning
Working together begins with being together. Prior to the forum, most of the
participants did not know each other or had never met. Thus, convening the
forum was a significant accomplishment on its own. It set a foundation for a
national network of provincial-level agricultural land use planners and future
collaboration.
Beneficial practices
A critical area addressed was practices that support agricultural land use
planning. To be effective, a provincial legislative framework for farmland
protection must be implemented rigorously and consistently.
Participants identified the following as areas of practice that must be
addressed to support land use planning policies:
o Interdepartmental collaboration and communication at provincial level
o Capacity for land use planning at municipal level
o Provincial-local government relations
o Provincial assistance and support to local governments
o Support for farming operations to complement farmland protection
o Use of additional tools to support legislative framework
o Measurement, evaluation, and availability of data
o Presence/absence of political influence
o Level of public support
o Taxation
The forum was organized as part of the national research project on farmland
protection. A summary of the forum’s proceedings is available on the project
website at http://blogs.unbc.ca/agplanning/national-forum/
Comments from forum
participants
“The information learned,
the people met, and the
materials gathered, are most
welcome and will be of great
assistance in the
development of New
Brunswick’s agricultural
land policy and related
action plan.”
R. English, Senior Project
Analyst, Agriculture,
Aquaculture and Fisheries, NB
“…brought an
unprecedented wealth of
knowledge and experience
together to explore this
important national topic."
B. Gourlie, Provincial
Environmental Engineer
Livestock, Ministry of
Agriculture, SK
“…provided a complete
overview on agricultural
land planning in each of the
Canadian provinces.”
P. Quesnel, Conseiller en
aménagement et développement
rural. Ministère de
l'Agriculture, des Pêcheries et
de l'Alimentation, QC
FARMLAND: A Prerequisite for Farmers, Food – and Agri-food Policy
6
NOTES
1. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada [AAFC] 2016. Calgary Statement – Towards the Next Policy Framework. Government of
Canada. On-line: http://www.agr.gc.ca/resources/prod/doc/pdf/calgary_statement_declaration_calgary_jul_2016-eng.pdf)
2. Hoffman, N., G. Filoso, and M. Schofield, 2005. Rural and Small Town Canada Analysis Bulletin Vol. 6, No. 1. Ottawa:
Statistics Canada, Catalogue no. 21-006-XIE. On-line: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/21-006-x/21-006-x2005001-eng.pdf
3. Statistics Canada, 2013. Human Activity and the Environment Measuring ecosystem goods and services in Canada.
Environment Accounts and Statistics Division. Catalogue no. 16-201-X. On-line: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/16-201-x/16-
201-x2013000-eng.pdf
4. Statistics Canada, 2014. Human Activity and the Environment: Agriculture in Canada. Environment, Energy and Transportation
Statistics Division. Catalogue no. 16-201-X. On-line: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/16-201-x/16-201-x2014000-eng.pdf
5. Hoffman, et al., 2005, p. 4.
6. Statistics Canada, 2014, p. 19.
7. Hoffman, et al., 2005, p. 4.
8. Ibid, p. 1.
9. Statistics Canada, 2013, p. 9.
10. Statistics Canada, 2014, p. 26.
11. Hofmann, N. 2001. “Urban Consumption of Agricultural Land.” Rural and Small Town Canada Analysis Bulletin Vol. 3, No. 2.
Ottawa: Statistics Canada, Catalogue no. 21-006-XIE. On-line: http://publications.gc.ca/Collection/Statcan/21-006-X/21-006-
XIE2001002.pdf
12. Hoffman, et al., 2005.
13. Smith, B. (1998). Planning for Agriculture. Victoria, BC: Agricultural Planning Commission.
Funding for the research project was provided by an Insight Grant (#435-2013-1726) from the Social Sciences
and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC)
FARMLAND: A Prerequisite for Farmers, Food – and Agri-food Policy
7
APPENDIX
The information in Table 1 is adapted from two Rural and Small Town Analysis Bulletins published by
Statistics Canada in 2001 and 200511,12. Although dated, the information provides a snapshot of the amount and
distribution of the most productive agricultural lands in each province and territory. The data in these tables are
based on Census data, which have recognized limitations that affect accuracy, reliability, and timeliness.
Table 1. Amount of Dependable Agricultural Land (km2), Canada and Provinces
Dependable Agricultural Land
Province/Territory Class 1 Class 2 Class 3
Dependable
Agricultural
Land
Total Land
Area of
Province
...as Percent of
Total Land
within each
Province
…as Percent of
Canada's Total
Agricultural
Land
Newfoundland Labrador - - 67 67 405,720 0.0 0.0
Prince Edward Island - 2,626 1,422 4,048 5,660 71.5 0.8
Nova Scotia - 1,700 10,219 11,919 55,490 21.5 2.4
New Brunswick - 2,056 13,823 15,879 73,440 21.6 3.2
Quebec 223 10,713 13,625 24,561 1,540,680 1.6 5.0
Ontario 27,635 23,335 25,567 76,537 1,068,580 7.2 15.5
Manitoba 2,111 29,617 24,499 56,227 649,950 8.7 11.4
Saskatchewan 12,282 73,341 104,482 190,105 652,330 29.1 38.6
Alberta 6,719 38,701 61,039 106,459 661,190 16.1 21.6
British Columbia 78 1,574 5,270 6,922 947,800 0.7 1.4
Yukon - - - - 483,450 0.0 0.0
Northwest Territories - - - -
3,426,320 0.0 0.0
Canada 49,048 183,663 260,013 492,724 9,997,610 4.9 100.0
Land area is measured in square kilometres
FARMLAND: A Prerequisite for Farmers, Food – and Agri-food Policy
8
Table 2. Provincial Legislative Frameworks: Overall Strength and Components
Overall
Strength Agric.
Zone Agric. land
commission
Provincial
statement
of interest
Provincial
land use
policy Most direct
statement Required integration
QC Very strong CPTAQ LPTAA
Orientations “secure a lasting
territorial basis” “to be consistent with”
BC (Zone 1) Very strong ALC ALC Act
“To preserve
agric. land” “must be consistent with”
ON (PPS+) Very strong PPS+ “Prime agric. areas
shall be protected” “shall be consistent with”
BC (Zone 2) Very strong ALC ALC Act
“To preserve
agric. land” “must be consistent with”
ON (PPS) Strong PPS
“Prime agric. areas
shall be protected” “shall be consistent with”
MN Moderate SPI PLUP
“To protect
agric. land”
“must be generally
consistent with”
SK Moderate SPI
“optimizes the use
of agric. land” “shall be consistent with”
NL Moderate
(ADA)
“development shall
not be carried out” “if they are contrary to…”
NS Moderate
to Weak SPI
“To protect
agric. land”
“shall be reasonably
consistent with”
AB Weak PLUP
“To contribute to…
agric. industry” “it is expected”
NB Weak
“shall conform with”
PEI Weak
“shall be consistent with”
Source: National research project, Agricultural Land Use Planning in Canada.
Table 3. Provincial Legislative Frameworks: Assessment of Strength by Land Use Planning Principles
Overall Strength Maximize stability Integrate across
jurisdictions Minimize
uncertainty Accommodate
flexibility
QC Very strong ***** ***** **** ***
BC (Zone 1) Very strong ***** **** *** ****
ON (PPS+) Very strong **** ***** **** ***
BC (Zone 2) Very strong ***** **** ** ***
ON (PPS) Strong **** *** *** ***
MN Moderate **** *** ** **
SK Moderate ** **** *** **
NL Moderate ** *** ** ***
NS Moderate to Weak *** ** ** **
AB Weak ** ** * *
NB Weak * ** * **
PEI Weak * *
Source: National research project, Agricultural Land Use Planning in Canada. See website (blogs.unbc.ca/agplanning) for details.
Chapter
Farmland preservation in Canada reflects a diverse variety of strategies ranging from the regulatory to community based approaches that build economic capacity on the farm. While the federal government has a minimal role within planning, the provincial government sets the policies but these are largely interpreted and enforced at the municipal level. Agricultural land in Canada is largely privately held and discussions connected to property rights generally do not restrict the ability of the province or municipality to construct policies aimed at the protection of farmland. Across the country, the best agricultural land is often located in close proximity to large urban areas and these farms are under threat of development due to urban growth pressures. As the approaches to farmland preservation in Canada vary by province, this chapter will provide an overview of key directions and strategies ranging from the world’s largest Greenbelt in Ontario, to regulatory legislative strategies in Quebec including the encouragement of strategic development plans for agriculture in agricultural reserves, and more recently, the development of tools to aid farmers adapt to climate change and variability. This chapter will also focus on initiatives at both the municipal and provincial level to enhance agricultural viability thereby helping to keep farmers on the farm. This discussion will be supported by two case studies exploring farmland preservation and rural development in Ontario and Quebec.
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Rural and Small Town Canada Analysis Bulletin Ottawa: Statistics Canada, Catalogue no. 21-006-XIE. On-line
  • N Hoffman
  • G Filoso
  • M Schofield
Hoffman, N., G. Filoso, and M. Schofield, 2005. Rural and Small Town Canada Analysis Bulletin Vol. 6, No. 1. Ottawa: Statistics Canada, Catalogue no. 21-006-XIE. On-line: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/21-006-x/21-006-x2005001-eng.pdf
Catalogue no. 21-006-XIE. On-line: http://publications.gc.ca/Collection
  • Ottawa
Ottawa: Statistics Canada, Catalogue no. 21-006-XIE. On-line: http://publications.gc.ca/Collection/Statcan/21-006-X/21-006- XIE2001002.pdf 12. Hoffman, et al., 2005.
Planning for Agriculture
  • B Smith
Smith, B. (1998). Planning for Agriculture. Victoria, BC: Agricultural Planning Commission.
Human Activity and the Environment Measuring ecosystem goods and services in Canada. Environment Accounts and Statistics Division. Catalogue no. 16-201-X
Statistics Canada, 2013. Human Activity and the Environment Measuring ecosystem goods and services in Canada. Environment Accounts and Statistics Division. Catalogue no. 16-201-X. On-line: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/16-201-x/16-201-x2013000-eng.pdf
Calgary Statement -Towards the Next Policy Framework. Government of Canada
  • Agri-Food Agriculture
  • Canada
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada [AAFC] 2016. Calgary Statement -Towards the Next Policy Framework. Government of Canada. On-line: http://www.agr.gc.ca/resources/prod/doc/pdf/calgary_statement_declaration_calgary_jul_2016-eng.pdf)
Human Activity and the Environment: Agriculture in Canada. Environment, Energy and Transportation Statistics Division. Catalogue no. 16-201-X
Statistics Canada, 2014. Human Activity and the Environment: Agriculture in Canada. Environment, Energy and Transportation Statistics Division. Catalogue no. 16-201-X. On-line: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/16-201-x/16-201-x2014000-eng.pdf
Ottawa: Statistics Canada, Catalogue no. 21-006-XIE
  • N Hoffman
  • G Filoso
  • M Schofield
Hoffman, N., G. Filoso, and M. Schofield, 2005. Rural and Small Town Canada Analysis Bulletin Vol. 6, No. 1. Ottawa: Statistics Canada, Catalogue no. 21-006-XIE. On-line: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/21-006-x/21-006-x2005001-eng.pdf
Ottawa: Statistics Canada, Catalogue no. 21-006-XIE
  • N Hofmann
Hofmann, N. 2001. "Urban Consumption of Agricultural Land." Rural and Small Town Canada Analysis Bulletin Vol. 3, No. 2. Ottawa: Statistics Canada, Catalogue no. 21-006-XIE. On-line: http://publications.gc.ca/Collection/Statcan/21-006-X/21-006-XIE2001002.pdf