Chatham-Kent questions Stats Canada results regarding increased farmland data

Chatham-Kent questions Stats Canada results regarding increased farmland data
Sep 22, 2022

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Growing crops—sure, but are Ontario farmers growing farmland?

By Andrew Joseph, Farms.com; Image via AdobeStock

Canadians rely on Statistics Canada for what we assume is its unerring data regarding, well, everything.

So imagine the surprise of farm leaders within Ontario’s Kent County who noticed that Statistics Canada has shown the amount of farmland in Kent County area has grown by 88,000 over the past 10 years, according to a recent report in the Farmers Forum.  

The increase has been consistent, as Statistics Canada numbers per the 2021 Census show that the past five years show growth in Kent County farmland by 44,000 acres.

While some might believe that creating new land is impossible—it happens, both in nature and via man-made efforts. Volcanic lava flow helps create land when it cools—see Hawaii. As well, Toronto’s waterfront area is mostly built upon an area that was physically a part of Lake Ontario over 150 years ago. There’s a reason Lakeshore Road is no longer alongside the lake shore for downtown Toronto.

And China has, for the better part of a decade, been building islands atop coral atolls, extending the area through ingenious architectural science. It’s been doing that to increase its territorial claims which have the bonus of pushing international boundaries out an additional 100 miles in each direction of the artificial islands. With at least three of these islands built, China has placed fully functional and operational military bases upon them in the South China Sea.

Or someone is creating farmland via artistic imagination—see image at top.

But all of that doesn’t mean it is possible or probable that Chatham Kent’s farmland has increased.

According to the data, Chatham Kent cropland—it excludes pastureland, hayfields, and bush—increased by 45,132 acres (8.1 percent).

And, per Statistics Canada, between the years 2011 and 2021 farmland in the area has increased by 88,066 acres or 16.6 percent, with cropland increasing to 85,420 acres or 16.1 percent over the 10 years.

For farmers in the area, that’s all news to them.

Although farmers can add more farmland or cropland by clearing bush, he said that there hasn’t been much land clearing in the area—certainly not 88,066 acres worth. He said that zero land clearing has been performed in the past year after Chatham Kent introduced a temporary clear-cutting law in 2021.

The Lower Thames Valley Conservation Authority pointed out that since 2011, the Kent area planted more trees than it cut—so where is this growth of farm/cropland coming from?

It is suspected that owing to an increase in urban sprawl in the Chatham Kent area, farmland may have gone down in the past 1o years. Certainly, Census Canada is aware of its statement indicating that Ontario is losing 319 acres a year to urban sprawl.

It’s not just Chatham Kent that saw an increase in cropland—10 other counties did also.

Across the southwestern Ontario region, cropland was up by a total of 2.55 percent—155,831 acres—per the 2021 data relative to 2011.

It’s an error. Either an inputting error or local area folk accidentally misrepresenting farm acreage.

It is also possible that in previous calculations of acreage, not every farmland owner was contacted, resulting in a lower initial number, and that the 2021 Census received a response done via telephone —and an accurate response—from 100 percent of the area’s farmland owners.

It is also a possibility that farmers own land in other nearby counties and added the total acreage to the Chatham Kent tally.

But what’s the big deal if Chatham Kent or other counties are being shown to have an increase in acreage?

Farm leaders say that if an area is suddenly larger than it was thought, more roads and or housing could be added, this time for sure causing a decline in farmable cropland.

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