Preserving farmland focus of U of G conference
The loss of Ontario farmland to sprawl will be examined at the University of Guelph’s farmland preservation conference June 28 and 29. “Protecting Farmland for Farmers” is expected to attract farmers, planners, academics, politicians and conservationists to campus and will mark the launch of the new Ontario Farmland Trust (OFT), an organization intended to help protect agricultural lands for farming.
“We feel the issue of farmland preservation in southern Ontario has been ignored, allowing urban expansion to continue unchecked,” said land resource science professor Stew Hilts, conference co-chair.
The conference, which will feature more than 30 speakers from Canada, the United States and Australia, is being organized by U of G’s Farmland Preservation Research Project (FPRP) and the OFT. Topics range from “Agricultural Land Use in the GTA” to “Alternative Ways to Protect Farmland.”
“The increasingly rapid loss of farmland and encroachments on farming communities make it imperative to develop a long-term plan and vision of how Ontario’s farmland will be used in the future,” said Melissa Watkins, research associate with the FPRP and acting executive director of the OFT.
To learn about dwindling agricultural lands in Ontario, you need look no further than Toronto, said Hilts. In the greater Toronto area alone, more than 2,000 farms and 150,000 acres — about 18 per cent of Ontario’s Class 1 farmland — were plowed under by urban development between 1976 and 1996.
The OFT – Canada’s first province-wide agricultural land trust – will focus on preserving farmland for agricultural production. One tool it will use to preserve farmland is a voluntary agricultural easement, a legal agreement that spells out permitted and restricted uses on a farm. Negotiated between the trust and the landowner, the agreement allows the owner to retain ownership, but ensures that the land remains free of development, even when it passes to different hands.
“It’s important that people see the land trust as one component of preserving farmland,” said Hilts. “The most important protection will occur through sound policies, developed with provincial input but enacted locally.”
Hilts said the new farmland trust will push for improved land-use protection policies at municipal and provincial levels. Ontario’s Planning Act, for example, provides only guidelines for land use rather than strict policies meant to protect agricultural lands from development. The trust will also promote education and research in farming and farmland preservation.
For more information, visit www.uoguelph.ca/~farmland. To register for the conference, call (519) 824-4120, Ext. 52686, or e-mail email@example.com.
For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt (519) 824-4120, Ext. 53338, or Rachelle Cooper, (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982.