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Did you know?
- Each year Canada loses 20,000 to 25,000 hectares of prime farmland to urban expansion
- For every 1,000 people we add to Canada’s population, we lose 53 hectares of prime farmland near our large urban areas
- Despite the large geographic area of Canada, only 3.2% of can be used to grow crops and 4.2% canbe used as pastureland
Soil is a mixture of ground rock, plant matter and micro-organisms. It is a living mass which provides nutrients for the plants and is in turn enriched by the plants as they decay. Soil is the living skin upon which most other higher plant and animal life is based.
Besides climate, lack of usable soil is the major limitation to agriculture. As the saying goes, “No soil, no civilization.”
Soil supports the plants and the plants protect the soil from heavy rain and direct sunlight. After clearing for two or three years of farming, the land will yield fewer and fewer crops. Then the farmer must move on to clear more forest, leaving a trail of dry, useless land behind.
That’s because when the land is cleared of its plant or tree cover, rain and wind erode the soil and compact what remains. Direct sunlight accelerates microorganism activity that breaks down the plant matter in the soil very quickly.
Without plant cover to supply a constant stream of decaying material, soil loses its fertility and becomes barren. This is called desertification, a devastating trend happening all over the world, including here in Canada.
Turning farmland into cities
Soil degeneration from over-farming is only one cause of desertification. Urbanization – converting farmland into urban spaces – is the ultimate form of desertification. In Canada, soil degeneration and urbanization together are responsible for much of the 65% loss of farmland we have suffered in the Maritimes, Quebec and Ontario since 1920.
More than 52 percent of Canada’s best farmland (labeled Class 1 by the Canada Land Inventory) is located in southern Ontario where population growth is highest. By 1996, over 18 percent of Ontario’s Class 1 farmland was being used for urban purposes.
Of the total amount of land converted to urban uses between 1971 and 1996, about half was dependable agricultural land (meaning it was deemed suitable for long-term cultivation). That land totaled 5.9 thousand square kilometres, which is equivalent to the total land area of Prince Edward Island.
As Canada paves its way north, it will eventually meet the northern limits of its prime farmland and that will be the end of our ability to both feed ourselves and feed people in other countries.
Sustainable Land use planning
Between 1971 and 1996, more and more of Canada’s growing population chose to live in urban versus rural areas. This increased the need for housing and accelerated the urbanization of farmland.
According to the Statistics Canada Rural and Small Town Canada Analysis Bulletin (September 2001), better and sustainable land use planning is the solution.
“Comprehensive regional planning with soils maps is essential to allocate soil resources for the future. Urban sprawl not only occupies the best soils, but also creates pressures on other soils that have severe limitations. Thus…comprehensive community planning, with detailed soils maps of large areas, will help to prevent some of the land abuse of the past. The future must be given higher priority than it has been given in the past, if peace, progress and prosperity is to be achieved.”
Three good reasons to preserve Canada’s farmland
1. Food security and local food supply
Preserving farmland helps ensure a continued supply of locally grown produce. People choose local in order to obtain fresher products and support the local agricultural economy.
Worldwide, 75% of the food we eat is commercially produced using oil. Oil shortages and rising prices may put a premium on local production. If Ontario should ever need or choose to be self-sufficient in the production of its food it is critical that we take action now to protect our remaining productive soils.
2. Economic benefits of farmland preservation
The Ontario farm and food processing sector generates over $30 billion in sales – more than 35 percent of Canada’s agri-food sector gross domestic product – and employs 700,000 people.
Saving farmland also provides fiscal stability for local governments. Studies in both the U.S. and Canada show that farmlands more than pay for the municipal services they require, while taxes on residential use, on average, fail to cover costs.
3. Protection of the environment
Farmlands provide food and habitat for wildlife, help control flooding, protect wetlands and watersheds and maintain air quality. They can absorb and filter wastewater and provide groundwater recharge. Desertification, on the other hand, speeds climate change which makes a strong case for farmland conservation.
Farmland is worth protecting.