Loss of Canada's Farmlands

"The state is like a tree. The roots are agriculture, the trunk is the population, the branches are industry, the leaves are commerce and the arts; it is from the roots that the tree draws the nourishing ways … and it is to the roots that a remedy must be applied if the tree is not to perish."

- Victor, Marquis de Mirabeau Early Eighteenth Century


Nowadays, younger generations seem to associate farming and agriculture with previous centuries. It is like we believe that technology can grow our apples and and harvest our corn. Yes, it sounds absurd, but no one really takes the time to appreciate how much farms do for us. And this lack of appreciation is what got us here.

This graph is showing the amount of agricultural land in each province. It is interesting to note that the provinces with the most agricultural land are also the ones with the largest populations

Why would we even need a farm?

Yeah obviously we need farms in our world, but why in our province? Why is it so necessary to have farms around the cities and suburbs?


Locally produced food is less costly. Due to the high transportation and environmental costs associated with bringing the food over from overseas, it is cheaper to grow food at home. Additionally, having local farms provides jobs, decreasing the unemployment rate, thus helping the economy.


Locally produced foods are healthier. This is because hormones and chemicals that are injected in foods to allow them to stay fresh when travelling to another country are not used.


Farmland is important for the recharge of water. Paved over farmland was once an area of recharge for water; once covered up, it decreases the area of recharge which could lead to flooding, not to mention a decrease in water levels altogether.


Farmland is home for many species and organisms. Loss of farmland leads to a loss of homes for these plants and animals

Destroying farmland and spreading the sprawl in Vaughan

Okay, but building over them doesn't have negative impacts right?

Building over farmland has many impacts that people do not really take into account. They just figure it's a part of life.

Urban Sprawl

Urban sprawl has been defined as low density development beyond the edge of service and employment, which separates where people live from where they shop, work, recreate, and educate thus requiring cars to move between zones (1000 Friends of Florida 2005)

Most of the time, when farmland is built over, it is for homes, roads, schools, parking lots, shopping centres; aka urban sprawl. Along with urbanization comes many negative impacts.


Before the introduction of automobiles, employment in urban areas was concentrated in the central core and were located on small lots often within walking distance to

shopping, work and other amenities. By the mid-1900s, this trend began to change, due to the use of automobiles and the development of related infrastructure. More and more, urban dwellers started to live away from the central core and relied on their automobiles for many daily activities. By 1998, there were almost 18 million highway vehicles registered in Canada (Statistics Canada, 1998). A new urban form has emerged shaped by car-oriented planning (Environment Canada, 1996).

The increase in dependence on automobiles leads to an increase in demand for roads and highways; this is when farmland comes into play. A large percentage of farmland is lost due to the need for these roads. Additionally, this leads to an increase in air pollution due to the exhaust of this new car-oriented urban form of living.

Population Growth:

More than 52 percent of Canada’s best farmland is located in Ontario. Most of this land is in southern Ontario where population growth is the highest. Thus, one of the results of urbanization in Ontario has been the loss of a substantial portion of the province’s Class 1 farmland. There is a direct correlation of population growth and environmental deterioration. An increase of population leads to a greater demand of more resources which in turn, generate more waste. The mere of idea of so many people sharing and excessively using a limited amount of resources here in the GTA would obviously have a negative impact on the environment. This loss of agricultural lands along with their production.

Physical Geography:

Many areas do not have the suitable terrain that can be built on. Since arable farmland could be considered the most suitable terrain a builder could find, a lot of times farmland is overtaken due to the convenience of the type of land.

Specialty Crops:

In some regions, the sprawl over agricultural land affects specialty crops that have

a limited ability to flourish in Canada. In addition, these products often represent

an important resource to the local economy (e.g. the fruit belts in the Niagara and

Okanagan regions).

Cities Indirect Impact:

Cities also impact the use of surrounding land in indirect ways. For instance, golf

courses, gravel pits and recreational areas are often located on agricultural land in areas adjacent to urban areas.

Water Quality:

Paving large areas with asphalt and concrete increases the rate of surface runoff. This, in turn, increases the amount of harmful sediments and substances (i.e. fertilizers, salts, gas, and oil) washed into our water. This results in the poor development on watersheds, that pollute the water. Also impermeable surfaces results in watersheds not being able replenish itself because water is not percolating through the soil. This creates water distribution problems, leading to increased water consumption, which is often more than needed.

Well what's done is done; can't change it now!


There are many initiatives that are currently being taken to reduce the effects of sprawl and protect our arable agricultural land.

What is being done?

Provincial Land Use Policies (Alberta Government):

In 1996, Alberta developed a set of Provincial Land Use Policies (PLUP) to guide municipalities in their land use decisions. A few are listed below:

  • .Consult with Alberta Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (AAFRD), and identify areas where agricultural activities (including intensive and extensive agricultural and associated activities) should be the primary land use
  • the fragmentation of agricultural lands and their premature conversion to other uses
  • direct non-agricultural development to areas where such development will not constrain agricultural activities

Rouge National Urban Park:

This national park is being built with the greatest sensitivity to protect thousands of acres of sensitive natural lands, and some farmlands. The Ontario Farmland Trust (OFT) has been promoting agriculture and farmland protection during the Rouge National Urban Park planning and development process. The Rouge National Urban Park will be unique and established with its own legislation, which allows Parks Canada freedom in developing a new park model, and allows the integration of sustainable agriculture within the park.

Provincial Policy Statement Review:

The PPS sets the Ontario government's policy direction for land use planning and development; it states matters of provincial interest (like farmland protection) and provides a framework for guiding local land use decisions.

Ontario Greenbelt:

The purpose of the Greenbelt is to protect environmentally sensitive land and farmland from urban development. Some of the benefits to agriculture from the greenbelt are:

  • over 7000 farms
  • Specialty farms in the Greenbelt produce everything from sheep and lambs, mushrooms, maple syrup, and horticultural goods (flowers and plants)
  • Although Greenbelt farms are smaller than Ontario farms, they are also more productive

Agricultural Land Commission:

The ALR was made to protect agricultural land in British Columbia after it the rapid rate of depletion was noted. Some of the rules of the ALR are as follows:

  • owners cannot subdivide
  • owners cannot build more than one dwelling on them
  • they must be used for agricultural purposes.

What can be done?

Incentives for Food Growers:

Farmers do not necessarily want to keep their land because they do not think they can survive off the profits from their food production. By selling their land to developers, they believe they can get a fair price. This is a problem for environmentalists because the farmers do not have incentive for producing food; they are being paid off too easily. Farmers can become rich by selling land, but this is a problem if the land is developed. It means that less food is grown domestically, which means that we will have to import foods from other countries. If farmers can realize how vital their crops are, they will hold on to their land and keep producing food.

Increase in Safe Zones:

Although there are already many zones implemented throughout the provinces that are protecting agricultural land, EVERY province needs to get involved in this zoning in order to revive the land that we still have. More acts, greenbelts, and zoning restrictions means an increase in the security of these delicate agricultural lands.

Aggregate Resource Act Review:

Currently, extraction of aggregate materials (limestone, sand, gravel, etc.) is given priority over all other land uses in Ontario, including agriculture, in the Provincial Policy Statement and the Aggregate Resources Act. The plan is to push for new policy directions that seek to prioritize protection and rehabilitation of prime agricultural lands while also planning for aggregate.

Land Of Our Fathers - A Modern Arable Farming Story HD

yasmin afshar

Markham Food Belt by yasmin afshar
We have identified the problem and are capable to use measures to reduce the effects of our ignorance toward agriculture. It just seems like we are too lazy to step up and make a difference. Although the economic benefit of urbanization may look better for governments at the moment, the long term economic benefits of preserving farmland are far more glorious.

So farmland really does matter, huh?