The Smart Growth panel should promote the protection of a strong agricultural industry in the Central Ontario Zone. To do so, the panel should call for the strengthening of provincial policy to support agriculture. The policy should:
- recognize the importance of agriculture generally and specifically in proximity to urban areas;
- define prime land and prime areas rigorously;
- prohibit urban development in prime areas and direct development to areas of low capability land;
- promote a nodal form of development with compact communities and firm growth boundaries;
- create a flexible property tax policy to provide incentives for bona fide agricultural operations and disincentives to land speculation;
- enforce Right to Farm legislation rigorously;
- recognize the positive contribution agriculture can make to quality of life in an urban areas;
- protect the service infrastructure for agriculture;
- plan infrastructure to minimize adverse impacts on agriculture and structure services to respond to the requirements of agriculture; and
- design regulations and planning controls to allow farmers flexibility in operation.
To achieve this the following recommended actions could be considered. The policies are grouped according to an appropriate implementation time frame and in reference to the process under which implementation could be achieved.
Long term Comprehensive Provincial Policy
Recommendation #1: The province should articulate an agricultural policy that endorses protection of prime agricultural resources.
Policy should be developed to articulate the provincial commitment to agriculture as a land use, an economic activity, an environmental benefit and a social imperative.
Commitment to protecting prime resources extends beyond the protection of prime land. It incorporates those services and resources that contribute to the success of agriculture. It promotes protection of contiguous areas to prevent fragmentation and "nibbling away" at the resource.
Elements of an agricultural policy exist in the PPS, in legislation such as the Right to Farm, and in positions taken on issues such as nutrient management, environmental management plans, and management of water resources. All these elements need to be drawn together, and a comprehensive policy articulated that lays out how the province will support the agricultural industry. This policy should be based on the position that high-quality agricultural land is a non-renewable, limited resource that deserves the same level of ongoing protection as natural heritage features and aggregate reserves. It should go beyond just the protection of land and articulate how the province will support the agricultural industry as a whole.
Short term Recommendations to Manage Agricultural Land to be Implemented through Revisions to the Provincial Policy Statement.
Recommendation #2: The definition of prime land should be expanded.
The CLI should continue to be the basis of the definition, but it should be expanded to include the other factors that contribute to production capacity. This has been done effectively in a number of municipalities where an evaluation of local conditions has been used to expand designations. The LEAR program developed by OMAF is an excellent process that incorporates consideration of local conditions including land quality, climate, service infrastructure, proximity to market, and critical mass of operations. Other measures such as the Agroclimatic Resource Index should be applied. The consistency in the definition across the province is critical.
Recommendation #3: This expanded definition should form the base for more rigorous protection of prime land.
Protection should be achieved through tightening of the PPS to:
- prohibit urban development in prime areas, without exception;
- prohibit expansion onto prime land;
- designate new growth nodes in areas away from prime agricultural land;
- impose separations from agricultural areas, not from specific uses, to allow flexibility for agricultural operations; and
- incorporate Right to Farm policies.
Recommendation #4: The expanded definition should be the basis for the creation of agricultural reserves or protection areas that are identified and treated as natural constraints and given the same level of protection afforded to resources such as aggregate reserves, significant wetlands, and other natural features.
As areas are evaluated, prime areas should be mapped and protected. This process can be done through the Official Plans at the municipal level.
Elements of this mapping already exist in the Official Plans in effect in the zone. This mapping can be used as the starting point, then strengthened and enhanced through application of the more detailed evaluation process. As mapping is produced and refined, provincial level resource maps can be developed.
These areas need to be identified within the broader regional context, not just at the local municipal level. The relative value of the land specifically and in the context of surrounding uses should be addressed. Areas need to be of a size that justifies maintaining the infrastructure required to serve the agricultural community. Provisions must be made to allow development of services, uses, and value-added activities related to farming.
Recommendation #5: The environmental value of agricultural land (for example, as carbon sinks, wildlife corridors, or protected woodlots) should be reflected in policy.
The current approach in the PPS that recognizes agriculture as having superior rights in natural heritage areas should be continued.
Short term Recommendations to Manage Growth - to be Implemented through Revisions to the Provincial Policy Statement.
Recommendation #6: Any smart growth strategy should promote a nodal form of growth with compact communities and strongly defined growth boundaries.
In the medium to long term, growth should be directed to communities outside prime agricultural areas. Opportunities exist in the Central Ontario Zone to direct new growth away from prime agricultural areas. These can be identified now, using only the CLI definition of prime land. As the definition is expanded, other areas will be identified. Communities outside prime areas should be designated as growth centres, and regional growth principles should address overall increased densities of development,higher density development around specific transit/transportation nodes, and the development of "satellite" communities. A nodal growth pattern should be established that focuses growth on lands with lower productive values in areas where expansion can occur away from prime land and prime areas.
Protecting agricultural land will lead to a different regional structure from that which would occur if urban expansion continued in its present pattern. A more nodal community development pattern should replace the incremental growth that has been occurring in the Central Ontario Zone. Provincial commitment is required to direct growth (both population and employment) to areas outside the prime agricultural protection areas.
Recommendation #7: Existing Official Plans should be reviewed to determine how much growth can be accommodated within existing designated areas and where growth should go.
A report recently completed by IBI Group predicts that approximately 1,069 square kilometres of land will be consumed by urban development in the zone over the next 30 years. Of this area, 92% or 987 sq km of it is prime land; 69% or 733 sq km is Class 1 land. Given that the loss of productive land affects a much larger area than just the specific site, this level of loss is unacceptable. If the practice of allowing development on prime land continues, the resource will soon be gone. In a province with large amounts of land that are unsuitable for agriculture, policy should rigorously protect what little agricultural land there is. Development should be directed to non-productive areas. Existing policies should be reviewed and amended to achieve this.
Recommendation # 8: The impact on agriculture of decisions related to the expansion of infrastructure should be addressed.
Highway and service corridors attract development because of improved service levels. Establishing infrastructure in prime agricultural areas results in the degradation of the resource. Corridors should be directed to areas of lower productivity that can accommodate nodal growth. When infrastructure is designed, provision should be made for appropriate construction to facilitate use by the agricultural industry.
The Province Should Make a Long term Commitment to Education and Research and Development Support for Agriculture.
Recommendation #9: Ongoing research on the special characteristics of many farm products and specialty farm areas should be undertaken, to:
- refine identification of the significant areas;
- determine their tolerance to urban encroachment (or their ability to coexist); and
- establish their ultimate level of protection.
Specialty farm areas need to be identified within the broader regional context and not just at the local municipal level. They need to be large enough to maintain the infrastructure required to serve the agricultural community. Provisions must be made to allow development of services and value-added activities related to farming. Non-farm uses will continue to exist in agricultural areas. This is not necessarily a bad thing if the uses are rural in nature and local residents understand the reality of agricultural life. To achieve this, Right to Farm regulations must be comprehensive and rigorously implemented. Massive change or redevelopment should not be permitted in agricultural areas.
Recommendation #10: Research should be ongoing to identify and support opportunities for the farm community to continue to make a good living from farming.
This goal can be achieved through implementation of property tax and planning programs that recognize value-added activities as part of agriculture, provision of services (irrigation/transportation facilities) geared to agriculture, streamlining of approvals and regulations and generally allowing farmers flexibility in the ability to respond to the market.
Recommendation #11: Employment programs that promote agriculture and accommodate the handing down of skills and knowledge should be implemented.
Farming is a tremendously sophisticated industry. The level of skill required to operate a successful farm is extraordinary. These skills have traditionally been transferred over time as the younger generation takes over. Recently, the economic uncertainty and pressures affecting agriculture have resulted in fewer farmers entering the profession. If this continues, as older farmers retire, the lifetime of learning they have acquired will be lost and will not be replaced.
Recommendation #12: Consumer education and education of urban-based elected representatives (at the local, provincial, and federal levels) should be part of any smart growth strategy for agriculture.
There is a huge amount of misinformation and misunderstanding about agriculture. Urban residents need to understand agriculture, appreciate it, and live in harmony with it. Consumers need to be educated about the value and quality of home -grown products, so a "Buy Canadian" response becomes automatic. If the resource is valued and understood by the population as a whole, there will be a stronger commitment to support it.
Canadians are now an urban-based community. Understanding of agriculture, its contribution to quality of life and importance as a component of the economic self sufficiency is no longer there. Education programs at all levels need to address this lack of understanding
Property Tax Reform at the Provincial Level
Recommendation #13: Tax policies should create an equitable environment for agricultural land.
Land should be assessed on the basis of productive value, not market sales. Where land is being held for speculation and rented for agricultural use in the interim, any benefit derived from the agricultural tax should be taxed back if the land changes use. Flexible tax policies that ease the burden on farmers should be implemented. Value-added operations should be treated as bona fide agricultural uses and taxed accordingly.
Assessment should be based on ability to generate income or production value. The information required to do this is accessible through the provincial crop insurance data and it could be done at the municipal level.
Cooperate with the Federal Government
Recommendation #14: The province should actively participate in the federal initiative to develop an Agricultural Policy Framework.
Participation in this initiative should be proactive to encourage broadening the pillars that make up the Agricultural Policy Framework. While the five established pillars are excellent they are narrowly based. They should be broadened to include acknowledgement of the environmental and social benefits that agriculture provides in urban areas.
Recommendation #15: The federal government should establish an agricultural policy to address the economic uncertainties plaguing agriculture.
Federal and provincial policies to promote local product and mitigate the impact of foreign subsides should be considered.