Northumberland farmland future in question

Article by Valerie MacDonald/image TAPhoto©2022

There’s a real push on to protect farmland land in Northumberland and across Ontario, especially in light of draft provincial government land use policy changes that endanger it.

Over 30% of land in Northumberland County is “protected agriculture” covering 146,296 acres, according to the most recent statistics. Sixty-seven per cent of that is considered prime agricultural land. There are 840 farms and the total area used for farm use is over 203,000 acres, of which 149,301 is for crop production.

Currently, 319 acres of Ontario farmland is lost daily to other land uses including residential.

In light of the significance of farmland to Northumberland’s economy and quality of life, two organizations want to highlight the importance of saving local farmland. To that end, the Northumberland Rural Coalition and Community Power Northumberland are hosting a series of speakers on Saturday, July 29 at the Best Western Convention Centre in Cobourg starting at 10 a.m. Among those is Paul Burnham, a long-time farmer and director with the Northumberland Federation of Agriculture (NFA).

“One of my main messages will be that everyone learn about soils…their importance..the amount of farming soil disappearing daily in Ontario, and to talk to politicians (about this)….It’s the only thing that’s going to effect change,” Burnham told the News Now Network.

Proposed provincial changes to permit housing on the Green Belt and to increase residential severances on farmland are among the issues that “need to be addressed by everyone,” he said. People need to answer the question whether we want “food sovereignty” and “if we want to feed ourselves (as opposed to relying on imports), we have to start preserving farmland.”

A group of agricultural organizations across Ontario, including the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (which includes the NFA) has already lobbied the provincial government about aspects of draft Bill 97 and changes to the Provincial Planning Statement (PPS) which include permitting three new severances per parcel in prime agricultural areas. This would override the existing Official Plans of not only municipalities in Northumberland – but across Ontario.

At this time, for example, the Official Plans (OPs) in Hamilton Township and Alnwick/Haldimand permit, respectively, three severances as of Oct. 21, 2003 and the same number on rural parcels over 100 acres as of Jan. 1, 1990.

Every municipality has its own rules through its OPs to save farmland in rural designated areas and while some have reached those maximum severances when they meet all of the criteria, not all of them have, so new residential units continue to be constructed at varying rates on rural farmland areas throughout Northumberland.

Housing growth also takes place within town borders and on their perimeters as designated by their individual OPs, and at this time the provincial government encourages growth where existing infrastructure like roads and bridges already exist. It also wants to increase density with different housing types such as granny flats (in rural areas especially ) and multiple housing units on a single property, primarily within towns. But more is needed and that’s by the Ontario Government is looking at overriding existing local land use planning rules, some of which protect farmland.

Relying on a Canadian Mortgage and Housing estimate that Ontario will need 1.85-million residential units by “2030 in order to restore affordability” the province has set a goal of 1.5-million new homes by 2031” – hence the proposed new land uses changes that are under consultation until Aug. 4.

With this as the backdrop, the Northumberland Rural Coalition and Community Power Northumberland have organized their July 29 community event.

In addition to Burnham, the speakers include senior land use and planning lawyer Eric Gillespie, Provincial Liberal Agriculture Critic Stephanie Bowman, Northumberland County Warden Mandy Martin and Chair of the Ontario Farmland Trust. After hearing the speakers between 10 and 12 there will be a one-hour panel discussion. Lunch will be provided.

There is no cost but you must register through https://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-importance-of-protecting-farmland-in-northumberland-county-tickets-661601075627 as space is limited.

Both the Coalition and Community Power Northumberland are committed to “protecting and preserving existing rural and agricultural lands and lifestyles in Northumberland while supporting sustainable development.”

Community Power Northumberland’s Tony Walker says revenue produced through several sustainable power projects is invested in organizations and projects that build capacity, sustainability and address climate change in the County. One of those initiatives was supporting the creation of the Northumberland Rural Coalition when it recently opposed the development of an 800-home development in Alnwick/Haldimand near Lake Ontario on lands now mostly farmed.

“We’d like to see municipal housing on municipal land, not on farming lands,” Walker said.