Statistics Canada
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Tuesday, February 8, 2005

SPOTLIGHT: Loss of farmland

Urban appetite for expansion

URBAN expansion has devoured a large amount of Canada's best agricultural land over the last 30 years, according to a new study.

The study, based primarily on census data and the Canada Land Inventory, uses a new methodology that has resulted in more accurate estimates of land use. It showed that between 1971 and 2001, urbanization consumed an amount of land almost three times the size of Prince Edward Island.

By 2001, about one-half of Canada's urbanized land was located on "dependable" agricultural land, that is, land designated as Class 1, Class 2 and Class 3 by the Canada Land Inventory.

These classes include all land areas not hampered by constraints for crop production, in other words, the most productive farmland.

Towns and cities

Between 1971 and 2001, towns and cities more than doubled the area of dependable agricultural land they occupied. In doing so, they consumed a further 7,400 square kilometers.

In 2001, they occupied 3% of all dependable agricultural land. More importantly, they occupied over 7% of the nation's Class 1 agricultural land.

In Ontario, which has more than one-half of Canada's Class 1 agricultural land, towns and cities occupied over 11% of this land in 2001.

This urban encroachment upon dependable agricultural land occurred as the overall demand for cultivated land increased.

The area of cultivated land grew by one-fifth between 1951 and 2001, while the amount of available dependable agricultural land actually declined by 4%.

This has forced farmers to bring lower quality land under cultivation to meet the growing demand for agricultural products. Lower quality land is often unsuitable for stable, long-term agricultural production.

Environmentally harmful

Production on poorer quality land may also be more environmentally harmful, as it is often susceptible to soil damage resulting in erosion, and requires greater use of fertilizers and pesticides.

The consumption of dependable agricultural land by towns and cities particularly affects crops that have a limited ability to flourish in Canada.

Specialty crops, such as those in the fruit belts of Ontario's Niagara region and British Columbia's Okanagan region, are particularly vulnerable to urban encroachment.

The impact of towns and cities also extends beyond their physical boundaries. For example, golf courses, gravel pits and recreational areas are often located on dependable agricultural land adjacent to urban areas.

You can read Rural and Small Town Canada Analysis Bulletin: The Loss of Dependable Agricultural Land in Canada free on our website.

For more information, contact Nancy Hofmann (613-951-0789), Environment Accounts and Statistics Division.

See also  
Scarce resource
THE DAILY – Study: Urban consumption of prime agricultural land