The 2011 contest theme was The Future of Canada’s Farmland. Winners were Nikaela Lange (age 13), of Dalmeny, Saskatchewan and Rebecca Mills (Second Year Bachelor of Arts Student at the University of Western Ontario), of St. Mary’s, Ontario.
The Future of Canada’s Farmland
By Nikaela Lange
The future of Canada’s farmland is in jeopardy. It is often far more financially profitable in the long term for a farmer to sell his or her land knowing that it may be changed into some non-agricultural use, than to continue farming. Between urban sprawl, global warming, and younger generations of farmers being less likely to take over, farming seems to be getting lost in it all.
Urban sprawl is becoming a problem because our farmland is constantly being taken over so we will have more space for strip malls or new neighbourhoods, when not all of our current ones are being used to their full extent. I realize that we do occasionally need more stores or parking lots, but do we really need 10 in one area? You can see fields being taken out or cities being expanded to make room for new developments, but not a lot of people think about what used to be in their place. This is a problem because if we do not have farmland then several people will have no source of income, and we will lose a lot of our food that is not imported. Good farms are being destroyed and being replaced with these so-called ‘improvements’.
This problem is caused by people constantly looking for new ideas, more efficiency, and more convenience. There is evidence of it everywhere. Any store you go into was once a field, perhaps even a farm. I think that what we need is more appreciation for our beautiful farmland that we have been given. Some authorities have said that urban sprawl is being criticized for leading to unnecessarily high costs for social services and private transportation, as well as lack of open public spaces. In the Greater Toronto Area alone, more than 2,000 farms and 150,000 acres of farmland were lost to urban sprawl in the time between 1976 and 1996. This represented about 18% of Ontario’s Class 1 farmland.
Although farmland loss is not tracked as much today as it had been before, we do know that the amount of farmland in the GTA has dropped by at least 50,00 acres between 1996 and 2001, and that Ontario lost at least 600,00 acres of farmland between 1996 and 2006. It can take thousands of years to produce one centimetre of the topsoil needed for agricultural production. Because of this, Ontario’s farmland should be seen as a limited natural resource, to be managed and protected.
Global Warming could potentially destroy our farmland. There is evidence in China of floods and droughts caused by the early effects of Global Warming destroying their farmland, which means there is a possibility of it happening in Canada as well.And at the rate we are going at now, it will probably not take very long.
Canada’s farmland could be lost simply because there is no one left to manage it. This became a problem when birthrates started dropping, leaving us with not enough people to manage our farmland. Many people think that this is not an issue, or that it causes very little effect on the percent of our farmland, but they are wrong. It is and will cause a big dent in our percentages. The census reports that farmers are getting older overall, while fewer, younger individuals are continuing to work in the field. Lacking younger family members willing to take on the burden of managing the operation, many of the retiring farmers are hoping to cash out.Census’ say that the average farmer’s age has increased noticeably and few young people are continuing to participate in farming.
Another possibility is that Canada’s farmland could be managed by computers or robots. If we have technology washing our dishes and doing our taxes, why not add managing our farmland to the ever-growing list? New technologies are being made that could quite possibly one day be able to manage our farmland for us, depriving us of plenty of jobs. And also, they are getting rid of some work ethic. If you work on a farm for part of your life, you probably have a good work ethic that will help you in other areas of your life. This whole problem started when some people started to try to make everything convenient and efficient. This could be compared loosely to the Industrial Revolution. Machines are changing the way we work, and the way we think. I am, again, biased here, because I am not really supporting all of our new technology that we are bringing in. I would much rather send a hand written letter or do my math with a pencil and paper, but that is another issue. So, anyways, I think doing hard work creates a stronger work ethic and, therefore, a better life. Although technology could make us have less work, I think it is debateable whether less work is actually a good thing. Authorities say that this is happening, and although it is not always a bad thing, it is questionable whether it is really necessary.
And then, on a more positive note, there is a chance that Canada’s farmland stays the same. As much a possibility of our farmland being changed or even destroyed, there is always the faint prospect of it remaining as it is. Many people, like organizations such as the NFU, are currently fighting for the well-being of our farmland. And there are plenty of reasons for this, too. For example, Canada’s agriculture and agri-food sector is one of the most competitive in the world and is well-known as a reliable supplier of safe, high-quality products. Another is Canada is the world’s fourth-largest agriculture and agri-food exporter, after the European Union (EU), the United States (US) and Brazil. The agriculture and agri-food sector directly provided one in eight jobs, accounting for 8% of total GDP in 2006. The agriculture and agri-food system employed 2.1 million Canadians in 2006. Agricultural land can play a complimentary role in sustaining wildlife populations.
Protecting our Canadian farmland helps to keep a productive land base for the agricultural economy. It helps guarantee a supply of locally grown goods. We need to protect our farmlands because if we don’t, one day we might not have any. Part of the problem is that, for many farmers, agriculture is beginning to seem impossible. Between 2001 and 2006, the number of farms dropped about 7 percent according to the 2006 Statics Canada census. This is even more reason to try to keep our farmland as it is, or even how it used to be. Thriving and plentiful.
Now, sure some people may not see this as ‘visionary’ or ‘idealistic’, but what really is visionary or idealistic now? Finding places to chop down trees and replace them with parking garages? Locating a field to put a new department store in? I believe that something visionary is imagining a Canada with less factories, and instead, family farms. Less fast food chains and more farmers’ markets. Less talking about these ideas and more putting them into action. Maybe if we did this it would help ensure that Canada even has a future.
*Note: Some of these articles are not in reference to Canadian farming, but several of the points are still valid
Farmers Losing Fight Against Urban Sprawl
Urban Sprawl and Speculation in Suburban Land
Computer Technology takes over Farming Tasks
The Future of Canada’s Farmland essay by Rebecca Mills
A letter for all Canadians,
We all need a place to live. We also need food to eat. Maybe our food supply is not as much of a concern because we import so much from other nations or maybe we just like to think that if we ignore the issue it will go away.
But it is not going away. Canada’s land is sick, and it is our fault. As we expand our urban centres, without any plan it often seems, we destroy our local food supply. We destroy farms which have been passed down from generation to generation. Land which held great promise of prosperity; land which cried in desperation for rain; land which has been more than a commodity for the farmers that have tendered it. It has been a passion and a lifestyle.
As the demand for housing increases, among other factors, farming is not as feasible. In 2006 CanWest News Service reported that one acre of land, located near an urban centre, would rake in $2000.00 under agricultural use. However that same acre would earn $40 000.00 if sold to a developer. The average age of a farmer has been steadily increasing and there are fewer young people to carry on the tradition due to lower birth rates. As a result, some farmers are cashing out.
Canada now has six urban centres with populations over one million including, Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa-Gatineau and Montréal. Canada’s population is still rising, particularly in urban areas which account for 80% of Canada’s population (as of 2006). This puts a great deal of pressure on cities to develop residential areas and expand industry for their rising population. The majority of this development occurs on formally rural land rather than in ailing urban cores. This has caused the growth of cities to go unchecked and puts the agriculture sector at risk.
Urban sprawl is not specific to one area in Canada however, the Greater Toronto Area and Southwestern Ontario have been hit especially hard. This is because the area has the densest population in Canada and the best land for agricultural use. In fact, only 0.5% of Canada’s farmland is top graded as Class One and over half of this land lies in Ontario, according to the Canada Land Inventory. It is also in Ontario where over 600 000 acres of farmland were lost to urban and rural non-farm development between 1996 and 2006. Prior, between 1976 and 1996 in the GTA alone, over 150 000 acres of agricultural land was developed for urban land use sacrificing 18% of Class One farmland. So, as these cities work to satisfy the needs of the population, they pave over some of the world’s best agricultural land.
A house can be built on any surface, but the best crops with the highest yields are only produced in the best soil, in an ideal climate. Farmers with poorer growing conditions use high amounts of chemical pesticides, fertilizers and expensive irrigation systems just to try to meet these standards which are detrimental to our environment and health not to mention expensive. We are throwing away a gift which is impossible to return- it can take thousands of years to create just one centimetre of topsoil.
In the future, Canadian farmers will watch as their land goes through many transformations. Organic farming is already on the rise, farms are getting larger and a demand to provide to niche markets has become apparent. The trends that are beginning to develop now will continue to gain strength in the years to come, but urban sprawl will continue to have the largest impact. Urban sprawl affects every single Canadian, not just our farmers. Cities must look at other options, such as following a Smart Growth strategy, and redeveloping deteriorating urban areas. If we do not force our decision makers to see these options, the future of Canada’s farmland is inside city limits.
A Concerned Young Canadian Farmer
“The farmer has to be an optimist or he wouldn’t still be a farmer.”
– Will Rogers