Agriculture Land Use Planning: Important New Study

19 November '13

In a recent blog post about Ontario’s Local Food Act, we commented on the difficulty of making legislative changes within the agriculture sector, partly because there are many competing priorities between levels of government and geographical regions. One potential pitfall with the Local Food Act, is the uncertainty about whether favouring local food as a provincial policy, will lead to unintentional negative consequences for other policy objectives, or within other regions within Ontario, and Canada. Food and agricultural policies exist at all levels of government, about numerous subject matters, and they don’t always operate in harmony with one another. One underlying reality, however, is that in virtually every circumstance, agricultural policies and objectives have a bearing on Canadian farm land itself. 
We’ve recently learned of a new study out of the University of Northern British Columbia that’s taking a much closer look at this topic. ‘Agricultural Land Use Planning in Canada’ is a 3 year study looking at how the changing role and value of agriculture affects agricultural land use planning across national, provincial and local jurisdictions within Canada. The research team, led by Dr. D.J. Connell, will analyze policy relating to Agri-food, focusing on three main areas: global competitiveness, farmland preservation, and food sovereignty (i.e. the sustainability and security of our domestic food supply).  
This is a really important subject area, so we wanted to provide you with some more details about this project.
The team behind this study realizes that the future of Canadian Society is influenced by the Agricultural sector’s adaptation to shifting and sometimes opposing forces, such as global drivers, market conditions, urban development, climate, and growing demand for local food. And, that everything to do with how our food is produced and consumed has an impact on Canada’s land base. 
In the last four decades, there has been a weakening understanding about the importance of agriculture, which has not only resulted in a loss and degradation of prime agricultural land, but has also led to conflict between rural/urban expectations. Preserving farmland competes with urban sprawl in terms of the land use itself, yet as cities increasingly neighbour active farm areas, there are also tensions between farmers and non-farming residents. Some of these tensions lead to complaints from residents about the inevitable nature of farming such as the noises, smells and sounds. 
As an example, we thought we’d share an experience we heard about from this year’s harvest. During a period where the farmers’ field was too wet for the grain truck to enter without getting stuck, the farm operators were transferring corn from their buggy to the truck on the adjacent road. Even though the transfer only took a few minutes to complete, and despite it being a low-traffic road with an easily accessible detour route, an angry motorist exited his vehicle and threatened the operators for temporarily blocking the road. While most country folks who are accustomed to living in farm communities would be understanding of the farmers’ activities, town and city residents don’t always understand or appreciate the challenges farmers face, or how we all benefit from farming. The increasing urbanization of farming areas is only going to heighten these tensions because society, in general, lacks understanding and appreciation for agriculture. Agriculture is more than the feel-good roadside farm veggie stands, petting farms or field trips to maple syrup forests; sometimes the elements of farming are noisy, messy, smelly or inconvenient – but they are no less important, if not more important than ever. 
Reconciling competing interests, (of which the above illustration is just one of many examples), when it comes to farmland is a large undertaking. Multiple levels of government and multiple policies influence agricultural land use. It is a subject that affects every Canadian, yet no study has looked at how these policies interact, or what implications they have on Canadian agricultural land. 
This research project addresses questions about how land use plans can be used to address conflicts between competing forces. Using mixed methods of literature reviews, interviews, case studies etc. The research will provide a better understanding, which can be used to inform policies at all levels of government, as well as numerous organizations, including and your own operations.
‘Farm land’ is essential to every farm operation we can think of, and we support this research initiative with enthusiasm. 
You can access ongoing updates on the ‘Agricultural Land Use Planning in Canada’ blog.