OFA has concerns on Greenbelt expansion

The Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) is concerned that a recent announcement by the province to expand the Greenbelt program could hinder agricultural productivity.

“Farmers support preserving farmland but steps need to be taken to ensure Greenbelted farmland stays productive so we can continue to provide safe, high quality food to Ontarians,” says Geri Kamenz, President of the OFA.

OFA submitted their concerns about Ontario’s potential Greenbelt expansion in April of this year, as farmers are the ones who own most of the land in question.

Recommendations were first put forth by an OFA Government Task Force in 2004 asking the Ministry to address wildlife predation of livestock, trespassing, crop damage and ecological goods and service issues.

“Farmers are already contributing positively to the environment out of their own pockets, unlike European Union or US farmers who are compensated for these efforts,” says Wendy Omvlee, Chair of the OFA Greenbelt Taskforce.

Omvlee owns and operates a dairy goat farm in Haldimand County, one of the areas vulnerable to further Greenbelt expansion. Greenbelt, defined as an area of open land around a city, designated for preservation, has farmers as far away from the GTA as Waterloo, Wellington, Dufferin, Niagara, Brant, Northumberland and Simcoe counties worried.

These farmers are aware of the impacts of the Greenbelt and want studies undertaken on the benefits, opportunities and farm sustainability impacts. No benchmark or baseline studies have been done to date other than Richard Vyn’s recent Doctoral thesis on Greenbelt’s effects on land values.

Minister Jim Watson expressed expectations yesterday that he will be seeing applications from municipalities within the next few months. OFA plans to meet with the Minister as soon as possible to discuss impacts on agricultural.

The OFA made recommendations to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing on the criteria for assessing a municipal request when adding to the Greenbelt. Among them, OFA would like to see a comprehensive, province-wide study of transportation infrastructure and needs (public and private) and an assessment of the agricultural capability of the best farmland. “It would be more beneficial to Greenbelt the more fertile class one farmland than class five for example. Some of Ontario’s best farmland is being paved over as we speak,” says Omvlee.

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