Canadian farmland loss: new Senate study

Oct 28, 2016

Ag industry concerns over farmland loss recognized by a new Senate study

By Jennifer Jackson

The Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry is studying the availability and ownership of Canada’s farmland.

The study includes the following topics:

  • Reasons for increasing values of farmland,
  •  Agricultural stakeholder concerns with acquiring farmland,
  • And potential solutions for farmland ownership challenges.

“This new study should be informative in light of food supply and the feedback we've gotten from farmers in the ever-growing world population,” said Terry Mercer, chair of the committee, to the Senate. The goal of the study is to aid in protecting Canadian farmland, according to Mercer.

Industry leaders across the country are voicing their concerns about the ownership of farmland to the committee.

“As a country that produces more than it consumes, available farm land is critical to increasing Canada’s presence in international markets, and achieving its full potential as a key driver of Canadian economy,” said Ron Bonnett, president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA), in a presentation to the committee. 

According to Bonnett, farmland availability factors include lack of agriculture profitability, resulting in abandoned land, as well as urban growth. Increased competition from non-farming corporations, conservation groups, and foreign investors also create problems for farmers looking to acquiring land.

Publicly available farmland data – including foreign ownership and land classes – is lacking in the country, says Bonnett.

CFA president Ron Bonnett
Photo: CFA

“Without this (land ownership and class) information,” says Bonnett, “policy makers in Canada will continue to struggle with the loss of farmland, and the challenges it presents.”

Don McCabe, president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, echoed these thoughts in his presentation to the committee this week.

McCabe explained that, in the past, large villages were first based around the best farmland. “Now, we actually have soils that have gone extinct in this country because they’ve been paved over – you’re never going to get them back again.”

We have “one landscape – it has to be shared,” says McCabe.

Other presentations focused on challenges for young entrants into agriculture, as well as possible tax scenarios for farm retirees and foreign buyers.

This study comes amidst farmer concerns over land prices, with the distribution of new Ontario property assessments earlier this month.

The study – announced in Senate on Oct. 6 – will be completed by June 2017. Senate hearings with industry members began on Oct. 20.

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