The rest of the province is losing farmland, but London’s is growing

Farm-rich Ontario has lost nearly seven per cent of its land to development over the last decade, but London has increased its agricultural footprint by more than 23 per cent, new census numbers show. 

The province is losing a significant amount of farmland every single day. This coupled with rising fuel and fertilizer costs — along with the threat of fertilizer shortage — has some fearing that the province’s food supply couple be in jeopardy. 

But city staff point to London’s urban growth boundary, a key part of The London Plan and a sore spot for developers who say the city is being too stingy with how much land it allows for building, as the reason why London is a leader in protecting agricultural land. 

“The urban growth boundary was established after annexation, and it came into force, in effect, as part of the city’s first official plan after annexation in 1996,” said Gregg Barrett, the city’s director of planning and development. 

London’s urban growth boundary puts limits on where development can happen, at least for now. (Supplied by City of London)

It’s the “inward and upward” part of the London’s plan for growth: “Everything inside (the urban growth boundary) was identified for future regrowth, everything outside of it was identified for agriculture.”

Gregg Barrett, the city’s director of planning and development, says that the city’s urban growth boundary has protected agricultural land. (NEO Image Creations)

The last time the urban growth boundary was changed in London was in 2015, a year before the previous census of agriculture was released by Statistics Canada. That’s why no farmland has been lost in recent years, Barrett said. 

In fact, the amount of farmland has increased in London by 1617.5 hectares since 2016, according to the 2021 census. That could be because land that was slated for agriculture has actually been put for that use, Barrett said. 

On the flip side, the rest of the province lost 235,685.7 hectares of farmland over the same period, which amounts to 4.7 per cent. 

319 acres of Ontario farmland lost per day

A loss of 235,685.7 hectares from 2016 to 2021 amounts to about 319 acres of Ontario farmland lost every single day. London only accounts for 0.3 per cent of all farmland province wide. 

Crispin Colvin, the director of Ontario Federation of Agriculture, says that if we don’t preserve our farmland, it could put our food security at risk. (Submitted by Ontario Federation of Agriculture)

“The 319 acres a day is the aggregate amount of land lost for the province,” said the director of Ontario Federation of Agriculture Crispin Colvin. “It’s not necessarily in one area, but it’s farmland lost to all other uses. It could be a building, it could be a road, it could be a parking lot, it could be a housing development – it’s an aggregate loss.” 

Once it’s gone, it’s not coming back, he said. 

“When you start to look at food security and where are we going to get our food from, it becomes increasingly important to keep your farmland as much as you possibly can, because otherwise we don’t want to be dependent on another country to provide our food.”

As for London, a comprehensive review will begin at the end of 2022 where the urban growth boundary could possibly change. Some developers and builders say London is losing out on prime tax dollars because other municipalities are building homes on London’s outskirts and collecting the tax dollars on the properties, so while those residents work in the city, they don’t pay property taxes in London. 

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