Farmland loss and protection

Farmland is a precious and limited resource. It makes up less than 10 percent of Canada’s land mass. Since 1976, over 15 million acres of farmland has been lost. More than half of Canada’s prime farmland (Class 1, 2 and 3) lies within commuting distance to major population centres, making it a target for suburban, peri-urban, and industrial development as well as real estate speculation. This prime farmland should instead nourish food sovereignty across Canada.

The NFU is on the frontlines working to preserve farmland across Canada, including in Ontario’s Greenbelt, British Columbia’s Agricultural Land Reserve, and the Peace Region of British Columbia.

These specific cases are part of broader efforts by the NFU to ensure the continued viability and well-being of rural communities, including healthy soils, clean water, and the many other shared resources that sustain us all.

The Greenbelt

In Ontario, The Greenbelt Act has been in place since 2005, preventing urban sprawl from encroaching on 1.8 million acres of farmland and forested area around the densely urbanized Greater Toronto Area. There is a higher-than-average density of farms in this area, which produce a wide range of products including dairy, meats, and fresh fruit and vegetables, due to both the quality of the land and the large and diverse market available as a result of its proximity to Canada’s major urban centres.

Through Bills 23 and 97, the Ontario government launched an attack on the Greenbelt and farmland across the province. The NFU-O and other farm organizations in the province came together to protect this precious farmland from unnecessary development. One target was the Duffins Rouge Agricultural Preserve [DRAP], which protects 4700 acres of prime farmland with the potential to produce local food for diverse GTA communities. The NFU and NFU-O have rallied to preserve the DRAP and speak out against a false dichotomy between preserving farmland and creating affordable housing.

May 19, 2023: Open Letter to the Ford Government in Opposition of Farmland Severances

Mar. 22, 2023: Rouge National Urban Park regional impact study good news, says NFU and NFU-O

Jan. 18, 2023: Letter – Protect the Duffins Rouge Agricultural Preserve

Agricultural Land Reserve

British Columbia passed legislation in 1973 to protect its farmland from encroachment by urban and industrial development, which was then consuming 10,000 acres per year. The Agricultural Land Commission Act also addressed public concern about the province’s future ability to produce food in the face of a growing world population. The new law created zoning regulations for BC’s rural areas that promote the long‐term public interest by protecting the food‐producing capacity of arable land, as the government of the day recognized that land use decisions made through market forces alone would only serve short-term and private interests.

The Act created the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR), encompassing over 11.6 million acres, in which only agriculture and uses compatible with agriculture are permitted. The total area under the ALR is only slightly lower today. However, lower quality land may make up a larger proportion of the protected farmland as a result of exclusions and additions to the reserve over time.

In 2014, the BC Liberal government weakened farmland protection in the province by passing the Agricultural Land Commission Amendment Act. The law created two tiers, with reduced protection for 90% of the ALR, particularly regions most affected by oil, gas, and coal industry development. Decisions regarding those regions had to consider “economic, cultural and social values; regional and community planning objectives; and other prescribed considerations [to be added by regulation in the future]” in addition to farmland protection.

The NFU vocally opposed these changes and held firm on the need to prioritize farmland over developer profits. After the BC NDP came to power in 2017, they reversed the two-tiered system.

May 2, 2014: NFU Brief to BC Premier Christy Clark Re: Bill 24

Feb. 4, 2014: BC’s farmland too scarce to lose, says NFU

The Site C Dam

The proposed Site C Dam on the Peace River in British Columbia would destroy lands that have provided food and cultural sustenance for First Nations for thousands of years. It would flood over 30,000 acres of fertile land in the Peace River valley, including over 7,000 acres of Class 1 and Class 2 land that is capable of producing an abundance of diverse fruits, vegetables, and all kinds of other foods. Its long summer daylight hours combined with rich alluvial soils and the sheltered valley areas provide unique micro-climates and excellent growing conditions.

Between rising risks of geotechnical catastrophe, a dramatic violation of Indigenous Treaty 8 rights, and flooding precious, arable BC farmland, the Site C Dam being built on BC’s Peace River is emerging as a massive liability that BC can no longer afford.
The NFU has steadfastly called for a halt to construction pending a rigorous, independent review of the Site C Dam to establish the project’s full social, environmental, and financial costs.

January 12, 2021: Letter to Minister Popham – Stop Site C

December 20, 2017 Renegades Rewarded at Public Expense in Site C Dam Decision

December 1, 2017 NFU urges BC Government to deny approval of Site C Dam construction

September 14, 2015 NFU calls for Moratorium on Site C Dam