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Agriculture

Good Things Grow: A Sustainable Future for Ontario Agriculture

(Cette politique sera bientôt traduite)
(My campaign is releasing separate statements for rural, agriculture, and northern policy visions because I believe that the Ontario Liberal Party should do that in the next election platform)

Ontario's agri-food sector is the largest single sector of our economy and a vital component of our culture, and food security. In the face of climate change, demographic shifts, and changing export demands, investing in this sector has become more crucial than ever. By prioritizing the preservation of prime agricultural land, climate change adaptation, succession planning, and access to markets, Ontario can foster a thriving, resilient, and sustainable agri-food industry.

The key component of this policy vision is my commitment to protecting class 1,2,3 agricultural land, prime farmland. This is part of an overall vision for economic security, environmental protection, and social stability. It fits in with my policy visions for housing, economic growth and environment.

The government, private sector, and communities must collaborate to provide the necessary resources, and incentives for farmers to thrive. Ontario can strengthen its position as a leader in agri-food excellence, promote rural development, and ensure that future generations continue to benefit from the abundance of its fertile lands.

Key Takeaways:

  • Implement a Farmland Easement Program
  • Protect Prime Agricultural Land

After careful discussions with farmers and other stakeholders, I will implement a farmland easement program wherein a farmer is compensated for retiring the right to develop on their prime farmland. This could be combined with conservation easement agreements to preserve co-located wetlands, woodlands and other natural features that are not farmable. Compensation and the establishment of an easement can make it easier for the next generation of farmers to buy farmland while securing retirement income for the current generation.

Long standing programs like this already exist in the U.S. and Europe. The experience in these other jurisdictions is that preserving farmland in this way involves decades of sustained effort and expense. In Pennsylvania, 600,000 acres have been preserved over the last 30 years.

A start would be to help cover costs of setting up and upholding farmland easement agreements to support existing Farmland Trusts.  It would be important for a new program to build upon and not undercut existing Farmland Trusts as an unintended consequence. With that in mind we would design financial incentives to farmers for easements and prioritize the preservation of large contiguous areas of prime agricultural land which border urban areas and are most vulnerable to being developed.

This is not something which can be done overnight. It will take funding spread over many decades. It won’t work unless it is coordinated with changes in housing and land use policy to encourage density, discourage urban sprawl and reduce the economic pressures to develop prime farmland.

Read an OpEd I wrote for The Trillium about protecting prime agricultural land.

Key Takeaways:

  • Investing in Succession Planning
  • Connect Retiring and Aspiring Farmers to Facilitate Transfer of Farms
  • Introduce Urban Youth to Farms and Farming

Farmers are aging. The average age of an Ontario farmer is 57. Succession planning has emerged as a critical concern for the continuity of agricultural operations. Without proper planning for the transfer of farms to the next generation, valuable knowledge, skills, and land can be lost.

Investing in succession planning involves providing resources and support to facilitate smooth transitions from one generation to the next. This may include financial assistance for young farmers to acquire land and equipment, educational programs on business management and sustainable practices, and mentorship opportunities to learn from experienced farmers.

Additionally, encouraging partnerships between retiring and aspiring farmers can foster collaborative arrangements that allow for the gradual transfer of ownership and responsibilities, including more flexible approaches to land leasing, asset sharing, and parcel fragmentation. Urban agriculture programs can provide a stream of potential new farmers.

We can support farmers and farming in a small way by eliminating property taxes on pieces of land which are currently taxed but not farmable because they are areas related to conservation. New surveys may be required to establish clear boundaries.

Key Takeaways:

  • Mitigating Risks to Ensure Long-Term Viability
  • Support Research and Innovation to Adapt to Changing Conditions
  • Work with Stakeholders to Develop Region-Specific Strategies 

Climate change is a significant threat to agriculture. Extreme weather events, changing precipitation patterns, and rising temperatures have a major impact on our ability to grow and transport crops and livestock. Investing in climate change adaptation measures is essential to mitigate these risks and ensure the sector's long-term viability. For example, farms have been under economic pressure to clear wooded areas that serve as windbreaks, but that puts soils at risk during dry spells.

Supporting research and innovation in climate-resilient crops, precision agriculture, and sustainable farming practices can equip farmers with the tools to adapt to changing environmental conditions, and boost the Canadian plant science industry.

We can also be smart about understanding how climate change shifts the growing season, especially in areas such as northern Ontario and the claybelt. By leveraging climate research and agricultural institutes in Ontario, we can be at the forefront of understanding how farmers around the world can adapt to a changing climate.

Collaboration between government, researchers, and farmers is key to developing region-specific strategies that address the unique challenges faced by different farming communities across Ontario.

Key Takeaways:

  • Investing in Access to Markets
  • Encouraging Value-Added Agri-Food Activities
  • Improving Rural Infrastructure

Building access to markets is crucial for Ontario's agricultural products to reach consumers locally, nationally, and internationally. Investing in market access can help farmers diversify their customer base, expand their product offerings to new, value-added products, and respond to changing consumer preferences.

Supporting agricultural trade missions, market research, and promotional campaigns can open up new opportunities for Ontario's farmers to connect with buyers and consumers worldwide. Additionally, investing in value-added processing facilities (e.g. selling cheese instead of just selling milk, or selling preserves) can help farmers to transform their raw produce into higher-value products, catering to niche markets and increasing profitability. Value-added agri-food uses of land should be encouraged, but without losing prime-agricultural land.

Investing in rural infrastructure, such as transportation networks and digital connectivity, can improve the efficiency of getting products to market and accessing e-commerce platforms. By facilitating access to markets, Ontario can create a thriving and globally competitive agri-food sector that contributes to economic growth and job creation.