Keeping farmland, farmland—a mission in grays

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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November 18, 2004: For decades the Christian Farmers Federation has had a firm position on severing scattered lots for houses in areas of good farmland. “Don’t do it. It’s bad news for the business of farming.”

It is encouraging that at least one of the latest provincial policy proposals includes a ban on scattered severances on prime farmland.

But all these provincial discussion documents, like the proposal for the Golden Horseshoe Greenbelt, have also stirred up new thinking on old issues. The policy think tanks and the Provincial Council of the Christian Farmers Federation have taken a fresh look at the specific issue of a residence surplus to a farming operation. It happens frequently that a farm family buys the property next door or across the road to expand their farming operation. But the family really doesn’t need a second home. It becomes surplus to the farm.

Historically, CFFO’s members have viewed scattered severances so negatively that they also rejected the severing of surplus houses. At last week’s Provincial Council meeting, the membership voted to modify that blanket rejection of severing surplus houses to one of support under unique circumstances, with specific guarantees. CFFO members want substantial guarantees with such a severance:

Guarantees that the remaining farmland parcel will have no opportunity to have a house built on it by adding the property to the deed of an adjacent property or by putting an easement prohibiting the building of a house on the title of the property.
Guarantees that the existence of the severed house will have no negative impacts on the farming activities and on the use of the farm buildings on the remaining farmland parcel.

A local agricultural advisory committee must be convinced that severing houses considered surplus to a farming operations is more important to the ongoing farming activities in their municipality than the negative impacts of a severed house on those farming activities; and

With so many guarantees attached, this is not a significant change in policy. Even so, CFFO members voiced many cautions before voting in favor of the change:

  • This house will be smack in the middle of farming.
  • Once severed from the farmland, the house will cast an urban shadow.
  • Severed, the house has a much bigger urban footprint.
  • Severed, the house creates minimum distance separation issues for the remaining farmland.
  • The new owners of the severed house are very likely to be exurbanites seeking a bucolic countryside experience; tensions for the farming practices for the surrounding farmers are likely.

This is a more nuanced and detailed policy. With enough guarantees CFFO supports unique and specific severances.



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