LETTER FROM ONTARIO
Are they serious about farming in the park?

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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July 2, 2004: Ontario’s countryside has a park-like quality and our provincial government wants to protect 600,000 acres of it as the Golden Horseshoe Greenbelt. Economic benefits and enhanced quality of life for millions are the expected results. A greenbelt will make communities stronger and more livable. It fits in with my desire for better stewardship of creation. I don’t doubt that our government and its Greenbelt Task Force have their hearts in the right place.

However…

One:

The proposal is steeped in the language of agricultural protection, calling up images of an agriculture frozen in time. The agriculture I know is a dynamic entrepreneurial sector that constantly adopts –- and adapts -- new technology. A mindset of protection for agriculture is a mistake. We plan for housing, for commercial uses and for industrial uses. A greenbelt needs to plan for agriculture, not as it is, but as it can be.

Two:

Farmers wear two hats. They run entrepreneurial businesses and they are landowners. A greenbelt will impact both. The public consultations heard lots of eloquent landowner voices. For decades Toronto, Hamilton and the surrounding smaller cities have been sprawling across some of our best farmland. The price of farmland in much of the proposed greenbelt has soared to speculative levels. Expectations for financial gain are rampant. Now society is changing its mind: that last crop of houses may never come -- shattering expectations.

In the shadow of those articulate voices it is easy to underestimate the impact of a greenbelt on the business of farming. Farming in a park will dramatically shift business opportunities. The history of Ontario agriculture is low cost production for the markets of the world. We drained low lands, tore out fence rows, buried stone piles, built ever bigger barns and used technology to develop intensive production. In a park, farmers will be challenged to rethink the investments and management systems developed over generations. Some technologies will be unwelcome. Some production opportunities will be incompatible. Farmers face the new and the untried in a setting that emphasizes the environmental health of scenic landscapes.

Three:

Will the millions who get the economic benefits and enhanced quality of life be willing to pay for these improvements? The group of farm businesses and rural landowners that will be asked to deliver these greenbelt services is small. If this park is to be permanent, farmers and landowners must be paid for the benefits they deliver.

A greenbelt should be pleasant place. Can it be permanent if it is a place of frustrated farmers and angry landowners? The Greenbelt Task Force needs a strong recommendation in its final report – the proposed greenbelt services need to be paid for by the millions who will benefit.

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Bill 27, Greenbelt Protection Act, 2004 can be found at www.ontla.on.ca/documents/Bills/38_Parliament/
Session1/b027rep_e.htm.

The Greenbelt Task Force Discussion Paper can be found at www.mah.gov.on.ca/userfiles/page_attachments/
Library/1/716171_greenbelt_discussionpaper_e.pdf
.

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