By Connor Lynch
GUELPH — Urban sprawl has long been an issue in Ontario, and the Canadian Senate is currently reviewing the availability and ownership of farmland across Canada, sparked by concerns that farmland is getting gobbled up by developers and housing.
It’s not a new fear, said University of Guelph agriculture economist Glenn Fox. Research on the issue in Ontario was first done back in 1980, prompted by a public perception that there was a crisis and Ontario’s farmland was rapidly disappearing.
At the time, there was no evidence to suggest that Ontario was losing any significant amount of farmland, said Fox. “While some was being converted to urban use, that rate was quite small and not nearly as high as was generally perceived,” he said.
But a lot can change in 30 years, so Fox decided to repeat the research, releasing his findings last year. He found that nothing had changed.
“Ontario is not running out of agricultural land,” he said.
Many farmers have cited the statistic that Ontario is losing 350 acres of farmland every day. But Fox said that isn’t the best way to measure as that farmland could include woodlots, wetlands and fencerows. Looking at the number of acres used for crops gives a more accurate measure, he said. There is actually more cropland in Ontario now than in 1951, he said.
And farmers aren’t getting shoved off the good land by development either, said Fox. Production has steadily increased.
Urbanization is unquestionably taking farmland out of production, said Fox, but it’s not nearly at the rate that many fear. Part of it is simple density. “You can put a lot of houses on a hundred acres.”
Likely the concern is generated by people extrapolating what they see in their community, he said. “Driving up and down Highway Five (west of Hamilton), you say, ‘Gee, wasn’t that a barley field 20 years ago?’ Then we extrapolate that. If that’s happening across Ontario, isn’t that a problem? The problem is with the extrapolation. That’s not happening across Ontario.”