By Keith Roulston
I was struck by how the Grey County Federation of Agriculture hit the nail on the head when, at their annual meeting, they feared for the future of the special farmland in their county.
Randy McLeod, a farmer from Clarksburg worried that if the federal government is trying to cut back the amount of fertilizer, to reduce climate change, it should be preserving the best farmland, not seeing it lost to development of houses.
John Ardeil of Ardiel Acres and Cider House worried that future of the Beaver Valley, the largest apple production area in Ontario because of the moderate climate off Georgian Bay, is also endangered as developers buy up farms.
The problem, of course, is that urban-dwellers just don’t see the danger. The food stores are full and always have been for the lifetime of most consumers. Those who grew up in Canada can’t even picture a shortage. They complain, instead, about the price being “too high” and endangering their alternate plans like travel to southern destinations.
The federal government, meanwhile, plans to bring a half-million immigrants into Canada each year to meet business and industry’s job needs. So the provincial government plans 50,000 new homes in the Green Belt farmlands around Toronto and new new highways across our farmland to transport people to their jobs in the cities.
According to former Huron County farmer Don Lobb, speaking to the Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry Status on Soil Health in Canada, our country has lost 15.7 million acres of its best farmland to development between 1971 and the 2021 Census, reaching nearly 1,200 ares per day. So we are needing more food at the same time we pave over food-producing land.
Lobb told the committee that according to Canadian Farm Credit Corporation statistics, 43 per cent of our best farmland was rented or leased in 2016. Meanwhile, just two per cent of the earth’s land area produces 40 per cent of its food, he told the committee.
The problem is, of course, that producing food is so old hat it draws little attention from the media in an increasingly urban-oriented world. More “interesting” to reporters and commentators are things like producing food hydroponically in highrise buildings in the middle of the city. Not to mention manufactured products like Beyond Meat that provide meat-like products without urbanites feeling guilty about animals being killed.
But Lobb told the committee that fake meat requires high-protein crops, yet production of these crops results in loss of net organic matter. Meanwhile, pasturing cattle, rather than being detrimental to the earth as is often portrayed, builds up the soil through years of root growth in pastures and hay fields.
Ironically, there’s no area of greater support for the current Progressive Conservative govern-ment in Queen’s Park than rural Ontario, even though it seems blind to the ultimate importance of food-producing land. Many farmers, nearing retirement, are happy to sell their land to the highest bidder, often a developer, even if it backs those who want to keep farming in a corner.
As well, just before the provincial election, Dr. Jim Norris of the University of Guelph demonstrated the wildlife in the 2,200-acre Nashville Conservation Reserve near Toronto which is directly in the road of proposed Hignway 413.
Farmland built on is lost forever. “No civilization has ever survived the consequences of soil misuse or exploitive agriculture,” Lobb told the Senate committee, pointing to the farmland of Mesopotamia, Greece, Rome and a host of others. “We are the last frontier.” ◊