Besides climate, soil is agriculture’s major limitation. All societies are ultimately built on the productivity of the land as neatly summarized in the saying “No soil, no civilization.”

Canada has a large area and a few facts are useful to differentiate the concepts of size and productive area.

  • Only 3.2% of our land area can be used to grow crops
  • 4.2% can be used as pastureland
  • Soil degeneration and urbanization are responsible for much of the 65% loss of farmland we have suffered in the Maritimes, Quebec and Ontario since 1920
  • Each year we lose 20,000 to 25,000 hectares of prime farmland to urban expansion
  • For every million people we add to Canada’s population, we lose 530 square kilometers of prime farmland near our large urban areas

Over the past century, artificial fertilizer has been used to boost crop outputs enormously. In effect, worldwide, the food we eat is 75% oil-based. This highlights the need to protect our agricultural lands far more than we have been to prepare for the time when oil will not be nearly as plentiful and cheap as it is today.

When soil loses its fertility and becomes barren, the process is known as desertification. It is happening all over the world and it is important to recognize this trend is occurring in Canada as well. Desertification speeds climate change and climate change speeds desertification. Urbanization, of course, is the ultimate form of desertification.

Whether acting as a reserve to protect food self-sufficiency in a more complex and unstable world or to produce exports to feed countries which cannot feed themselves, our agricultural lands are one of our most vital resources. Agricultural land should not be destroyed simply to make way for subdivisions and shopping malls.

Images of the oil sands provide some of the ugliest illustrations of environmental damage in the world. Contrarily, images of endless forests of new homes built on the best farmland in the world are hailed in the commercial media as evidence of progress and a healthy economy. This is despite the fact that the long term effects of increasing the number of houses, especially on prime farmland, in a northern environment is more damage on a per hectare basis than the mining of the oil sands.

Once the oil sands are processed, (and cleaned) they are benign, neither producing energy or requiring it. Housing developments require energy and material inputs for as long as they exist. They are an environmental sink and beyond the energy to produce the tons of concrete, asphalt, lumber, copper and plastic required in their construction, they need energy every day of the year, for as long as they continue to exist. So when you look at housing developments, particularly on the prime farmland that surrounds most of Canada’s major cities, look beyond the gleaming architecture to the resources, the many equivalent hectares of oil sands that went into them and will be needed in the future.

By adopting a policy of endless population growth and targeting an exceptionally high annual level of immigration equal to or greater than 1% of the Canadian population, the government has essentially committed to building an additional 25 million homes and their supporting roads and commercial buildings on Canada’s best agricultural land.

The commercial media is telling the story through the lens of profit for their advertizers which is growth dependent rather than the lens of public welfare and environmental balance. The endless paving over of farmland is unsustainable as is the energy and material demand these huge cities will place on the earth’s resource base.