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
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.
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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