Op Ed: Beyond the Election: Protecting Farmland for the Future

This opinion piece from Emery Huszka of the National Farmers Union-Ontario (NFU-O) was written May 3, 2018. We think the information and opinions expressed are just as relevant now as they were in 2018.

Farmland is vital to farmers and communities. It is vital to food production. It is vital to every single Ontario resident. Farmland is more than just a farmer’s field; it sustains us all by providing healthy food and clean water and should be afforded the respect it is owed. 

As the provincial election approaches, voters hear various political soundbites regarding farmland and agriculture, and it’s a challenge to sort fact from fiction. What the rhetoric makes clear is that farmland and food production are everyone’s business. Without farmland, there is very little food production, and agricultural land and environmentally sensitive tracts should not form the basis of a real-life Monopoly game.

The NFU-O strongly advocates for farmland protection and has called for the entire province to be temporarily greenbelted in order to create an intelligent, balanced plan which can meet population growth needs while also protecting our valuable farmland, moraines, and significant green spaces. This protective measure would also need to take into account the changing needs of farm families in order to support the economic viability of those who steward the land. 

Urban sprawl gobbles up prime farmland and green space that protects key water and natural resources and is required to feed ourselves and our neighbours. While the current Ontario Greenbelt is a positive step to protect land, farmland outside its boundary is vulnerable to leapfrog development whereby developers jump over the boundary and pave over farmland just beyond it. Farm communities outside of the Greenbelt are being being overrun by developers and speculative buyers. In the report on 2017 farmland prices, Farm Credit Canada confirmed that Ontario farmland values as compared to production capacity have now diverged, meaning non-farming speculation is continuing to drive land value. The NFU-O is very concerned that while the Ontario government enacted measures to “cool down” the housing market in the GTA from foreign acquisition, farmland is still a free-for-all with speculative values often two to three times the productive capacity of the land.

We are calling for an intelligent non-partisan debate around farmland protection policy, one that goes beyond single election cycles. When short-sighted remarks are attributed to any of our political leaders, we must demand better. The NFU-O strongly urges our fellow eaters, rural and urban, to speak up for the protection of prime farmland and to ask hard questions of our candidates as they seek your vote.

Emery Huszka is a grain farmer in Florence, ON. He is the President of National Farmers Union–Ontario and NFU Region 3 Coordinator.