Local farmers mobilize against Ontario government’s development plans

Prince Edward Federation of Agriculture President John Thompson. (Jason Parks/Gazette Staff)




The President of the Prince Edward Federation of Agriculture (PEFA), John Thompson, aired his concerns over the province’s proposed Bill 97 and Provincial Planning Statement (PPS) at the County Council on Tuesday May 23rd.

A Sophiasburgh poultry farmer, Mr. Thompson made clear that PEFA opposes the three lot severances per farm parcel proposed for prime agricultural areas as well as other measures that weaken local farmland protection.

“(PEFA) requests that the limited circumstances permitting residential lot creation in prime agricultural areas under the Provincial Policy Statement, 2020, be retained in the new Provincial Planning Statement,” said Thompson.

Local farmer Jacqui Burley’s family has farmed the Cressy peninsula for eight generations. The original family farmhouse in Cressy Lakeside dates back to 1825. The family works 700 acres in commodity production, harvesting soybeans, corn, and wheat.

“What concerns me is the loss of prime agricultural land. We’ve already lost approximately 7000 acres over the past ten years. It’s been re-zoned for residential development,” said Ms. Burley.

According to the County Foundation’s 2022 “Vital Signs” report, agriculture is the third most prominent economic driver in Prince Edward County. About 55 per cent of the land in the County, a total of 146,000 acres, is dedicated farmland. Or was. According to Martin Straathof, Executive Director of the Ontario Farmland Trust, from 2011 to 2021, the County lost 7,105 acres of cropland, about 5 per cent of the total. The number of farms in the County fell from 477 to 375 over the same period.

“I worry for the next generation,” said Ms. Burley. “Targeting agricultural land for residential development just makes what is already expensive even more so, because it opens it to speculators and developers. You just have that much more competition for the land.”

The median age of farmers in the County is 59, according to Mr. Straathof.

“If the average farmer is nearing retirement age, who is going to be able to take over, when farming is becoming so unaffordable? It’s a way of earning a living that is not going to be viable,” said Ms. Burley.

“It really concerns me that fifty years of the County’s work on Official Plans, which make re- zoning of agricultural land difficult if not impossible, can be lost if the Ontario government decides to rezone the land. There is no appeals process,” said Ms. Burley, noting several provisions in the PPS over-ride municipal decision-making. “Once farmland is lost to development, its lost forever. It’s not coming back.”

According to Mr. Thompson, directing growth to settlement areas, urban and rural, is better for both agriculture and municipalities. “Housing needs can be met in serviced settlement areas on a much smaller land base. This reduces farmland loss and potential land use conflicts while encouraging ongoing investment in farming.”

“Residential lot creation in agricultural areas has long been controversial and the detrimental impacts for agriculture are well demonstrated, including fragmentation of the agricultural land base, increased conflicts between neighbouring land uses, risk of inflating farmland prices, and increasing costs to municipalities,” said Mr. Thompson. “In addition, we have significant concerns regarding the speculative investment that this proposal will drive, resulting in land values that make farming even more unattainable for the next generation. Any policies that might open farmland to speculative purchase and investment need to be discouraged.”

Farmers can speak up against these proposals by sending letters from the OFA website or NFU website. Comments on the Provincial Planning Statement can be submitted through the Environmental Registry of Ontario until June 5, 2023.