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Farming versus urban development

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Climate, topographical and soil conditions restrict agriculture to a few key areas in Canada's southern regions and the Prairies-precisely where most Canadians prefer to live. This can cause conflict between agriculture and urban development.

From 1961 to 2001, Canada's population grew from 18.2 million to 30.0 million, and the share of people living in urban areas increased from 70% to 80%. In many areas, some or most of this growth occurred on agricultural land.

Urban growth raises the price of farmland past what farmers can afford, making it more likely that the land will be sold to developers. Once land is subdivided and developed, the asphalt, buildings and the leftover patchwork of small, undeveloped parcels make a return to large-scale farming unlikely. Land development also entails a loss of green space and reduces the natural recycling of carbon dioxide.

Chart: Urban land use on agricultural landIn both Quebec and British Columbia, most of the arable land is located near the largest urban centres. Only 1% of British Columbia's land is considered prime agricultural land, located mainly in the OkanaganValley and the Lower Mainland, which is home to more than two million people. In Quebec, the best farmland makes up only 1.4% of the province.

Southern Ontario is home to a large proportion of the country's population and to more than half of Canada's Class 1 agricultural land. (Classes 1 to 3 are considered prime agricultural land.) Much of the development of farmland there has occurred over the last few decades. Of particular concern is the loss of agricultural land in Ontario's fruit-producing areas. Since tree fruits and vineyards require specific microclimates to thrive, the loss of these lands could mean a permanent loss of our capacity to cultivate these crops.