Growing housing demand is straining farmland in Canada


The COVID-19 pandemic has increased demand for suburban homes, raising fears that much of Canada’s best farmland will be lost forever.

Nathan Denette / The Canadian Press

Canadian farmer Peter Lambrick has watched Toronto’s sprawl grow closer to its cornfields for years. But as the pandemic fuels demand for housing, he fears much of the country’s best farmland will be lost forever.

In addition to erasing the rural landscape of grazing cattle and redwood barns, the loss of prime farmland could affect the food production of one of the world’s largest suppliers of wheat, pork and pulses, farm leaders said.

“The amount of farmland is increasingly shrinking due to the construction of houses, roads and infrastructure,” Lambrick, who leases most of his fields, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

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“The number of farmers is dropping every year,” he said from his home in Halton Region, where rows of townhouses, shopping malls and industrial parks have eaten away rolling fields of crops and trees. pastures.

While Canada is the second largest country in the world with only around 40 million people, most of its best arable land is near major cities like Toronto, where the COVID-19 pandemic has intensified. the demand for suburban homes.

Much of the country’s best cropland can be seen “from the top of the CN Tower” in downtown Toronto, said Richard Joy, executive director of the Urban Land Institute, a Toronto-based research group.

Toronto was already one of the fastest growing urban centers in the West, Joy said, but across Canada, low interest rates are stimulating appetite for new homes, pushing up prices. 38% year-over-year in May, according to the Canadian Real Estate Association.

The average Canadian house is now worth more than $ 688,000, the Ottawa-based group said.

This puts housing out of reach for many first-time buyers and inflates rental costs, analysts say, and could also accelerate the constant loss of farmland.


Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, loses 175 acres (70 hectares) of farmland every day, an area of ​​about 135 football fields, according to the Ontario Federation of Agriculture.

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“Our best farmland is turning into homes,” said Peggy Brekveld, chair of the Guelph-based advocacy group, 90 km (56 miles) southwest of Toronto.

“Once you turn farmland into houses or concrete, it never turns back into farmland,” said Brekveld, who runs a 500-acre (200-hectare) farm with dairy cows, wheat, canola and forage crops.

As the coronavirus encourages house hunters to look beyond major cities, pressures on farmland are expected to increase.

“Even before COVID, there was pressure; it’s not just a short-term thing. But the pandemic has caused people to consider stepping out of the urban footprint, ”added Brekveld.

Canada is one of the top three exporters of wheat, pork and pulses, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), meaning the land rush could have serious consequences. global repercussions as commodity prices rise in line with world population.

As Canada’s population is also growing rapidly due to an immigration boom, leaders in the construction industry are calling on authorities to better plan, cut red tape and make building upwards easier to ensure a supply of affordable housing.

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“We just need to keep building more homes of all kinds,” said Joe Vaccaro, CEO of the Ontario Home Builders’ Association.

Density has increased, he said, although bureaucracy and complaints from local residents about multi-story construction projects have made it more difficult to build affordable housing.

“There is nothing sadder than going to a city meeting on a condominium (building) and people show up and say ‘We don’t want another condo here,'” Vaccaro said. .

“This is what brings us to the great debate around the protection of agricultural land and urbanization.


Some key farmland around Toronto is protected by a no-development policy to protect agriculture, known as the Green Belt. A similar set of rules are in place around some of the larger growth areas near Vancouver.

The government said it was working to balance housing affordability while preserving productive land and facilitating young farmers’ access to industry.

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“The Government of Canada has put measures in place to ensure that the agriculture sector continues to have the support it needs to ensure that Canadians have food on their shelves and kitchen tables,” said the porter. – spoken by Cameron Newbigging.

He said that while the provinces are in charge of the broader land use planning rules, authorities are closely monitoring the challenges facing the country’s farmers.

During the pandemic, the government adopted various measures to support them, including loan guarantees for agricultural cooperatives, tax breaks and training funds, Newbigging added in comments sent via email.

But as the cost of buying a home continues to rise, local and provincial governments will need to balance the demands of home buyers with protection of farmland, said Richard Vyn, professor of agricultural economics at the University. from Guelph.

“There is more demand for single-family residential properties. Where do you find land to develop: the agricultural land around many of these urban areas, ”he said.

“Do you want to make housing more affordable or protect farmland? Vyn said. “It’s quite difficult to do both.

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