LETTER FROM ONTARIO
The farmland preservation toolkit

Farm & Countryside Commentary by Elbert van Donkersgoed

Editor's NOTE

Elbert van Donkersgoed is the Strategic Policy Advisor of the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario, Canada. CFFO is supported by 4,500 family farmers across the province of Ontario.

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August 17, 2004: Preserving farmland requires a tool kit. That’s the key message I took away from last week’s two-day Farmland Preservation Conference at the University of Guelph. Viable farm businesses, a vigorous countryside economy, thriving villages and small towns, permanent urban boundaries, stewardship of our environment, and a wonderful place to visit all belong in the tool kit for preserving farmland.

Craig Pearson, Dean of the Ontario Agriculture College, called for a four-fold commitment: community action, personal commitment, government policy and appropriate economic drivers.

Ron Bonnett, president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, cautioned that some of our best farmland is already sabotaged because the infrastructure that supports vibrant farm businesses has faded and urban communities should first look to their wasteful use of land for low density development.

Maria Vann Bommel, Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Municipal Affairs, reflected on our forefathers who sought out the best land for farming but also started our cities there. She noted: “We have a great responsibility because Ontario has half of the prime farmland in Canada and they are not making any more.”

Speakers from the United States reported on the successes and shortcomings of their conservation easement approach to farmland preservation that emphasizes the purchase of development rights by public agencies. The communities using this approach do not see this as a silver bullet solution. The participating jurisdictions also have a whole range of other programs to support farming: tax credits, reduced property taxes, firm urban growth boundaries, farm investment programs, beginning farmers assistance, niche market development, farm viability enhancement programs and limits on the number of houses allowed in the countryside, for example, a maximum of one house per 50 acres.

Allan Buckwell, from the Countryside Landowners Association in the U.K. reported that their debate focuses on the loss of countryside. Productive farmland is one among many assets of the countryside: biodiversity, landscapes and other amenities. The British import so much of their food that the link between their own farmland and their dinner tables is fading. Buckwell sees a third generation agriculture resulting from the merging of first generation agriculture – man and horse in tune with nature — and second generation agriculture – industrial technology focused on output. This new agriculture will have the productivity of the second generation and the environmental harmony of the first.

Most significantly, Ontario has at least one more tool in its farmland preservation kit -- one of the concurrent conference sessions was the first meeting of the members of the Ontario Farmland Trust. A board of directors was elected. This new charitable agency is ready to enable those who are willing to make a personal commitment to Ontario’s farmland.

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Information about the Ontario Farmland Trust and the recent conference can be found at: www.uoguelph.ca/~farmland/index.

Membership information in TOFT can be download: www.uoguelph.ca/~farmland/OFTMembershipForm.pdf.

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