Protecting Farmland – Ontario Farmland Trust
Land use policy, especially as it relates to farmland, is coming under greater scrutiny as Ontario continues to grow, and our urban areas continue to expand. Two speakers at the CFFO March Provincial Council meeting focused on the issue of farmland policy, each from a different perspective. We had presentations from FarmStart, an organization helping new farmers in Ontario which was discussed in last week’s commentary, and from Ontario Farmland Trust.
Matt Setzkorn is the Acting Executive Director at Ontario Farmland Trust (OFT), which is a registered charity with the slogan “Protecting Farmland Forever.” So far, OFT has been able to secure 1100 acres on 12 farms through farmland protection easements. Easements have been successful in protecting farmland in the U.S. They do not affect the ownership or the ability to sell a farm, but the easement remains on the deed so that the farm will be conserved as farmland. Farmer landowners are often motivated to work with OFT because of a strong stewardship ethic for their farms. Their personal history and relationship with the land means they want to see it farmed into the future. Setzkorn pointed out that there can be tax advantages as well.
OFT is concerned about pressures on farmland especially from urban development and aggregates. Only 5% of the land in Ontario is arable. At our current rate of farmland loss, OFT predicts that by 2036 Ontario is at risk of being food insecure. In order to prevent this, OFT is also focused on policy discussions relating to land use.
Although OFT argues that the best way to protect farmland is through permanent protections like easements, OFT is also involved in policy discussions as an important farmland protection avenue. For example, Ontario is currently looking at the Four Plan Review and considering expanding the Greenbelt. As part of their ongoing land use policy work, OFT recently hosted their 2016 Farmland Forum policy discussion in Kitchener. Speakers addressed topics such as edge planning to set limits on urban expansion, farmland rental and easement agreements, and aggregate site rehabilitation.
The CFFO has long been concerned about the need to protect farmland for farming in Ontario, and is pleased to have the input from these two organizations who share similar goals, but bring different approaches to the issue. The presentations challenged members to think broadly about farmland protection issues, now and into the future. Effective co-operation among farm organizations will be vital to continue to protect farmland in Ontario.