Reinventing: Agriculture in Innisfil, part 1

This is the first in a series to look at how Innisfil could reinvent itself to be a “town unlike any other” by embracing the principles of conservation sustainability, and smart growth. I begin by looking at the state of agriculture since Innisfil still considers itself a rural setting… 

Agriculture is a Valuable Economic Sector

Some statistical data exists to give an historical perspective on agriculture in Simcoe County. A study published by Harry Cummings & Associates in 1999 found that there were 14,014 jobs tied to agriculture in Simcoe County. Farm gate sales increased by 30% from $204.4 million to $264.9 million between 1986 and 1996. Farm receipts in 2008 were $338.7 million. The study also estimated that there were 573 businesses beyond the farm-gate related to agriculture that employed an estimated 2,237 people.

The largest number of Simcoe County farms (32%) were engaged in beef production. More recent statistics based on the 2006 census show that beef and other livestock accounted for the largest number of farms. The County also accounted for 37% of Ontario’s potato crop. Soybeans and hay accounted for most hectares of field crops in 2006. The 1999 study found that agricultural businesses “sell more of their agricultural products outside the County than within it”.

There were 2,773 farms in Simcoe County in 1996. Out of 2,402 farms remaining in 2006, 1,597 of them reported gross farm receipts of less than $50,000. At the top end, there were 20 farms with gross receipts of $2,000,000 or more. In 2008, floriculture, nursery and sod provided about 12% of farm income in Simcoe County followed by potatoes (9.5%) and cattle (9.4%).

Agricultural Land is Threatened by Urban Development

Written 11 years ago, the Cummings report noted “the on-going pressure of development on agricultural lands. On the other hand, the presence of Toronto Area markets is a significant opportunity for Simcoe area businesses.” Speaking of South Simcoe (i.e. – Innisfil) the report noted that “South Simcoe is particularly suited to agriculture with a long growing season.”

In 1999, the County’s population was concentrated most in the southern townships – Innisfil, New Tecumseth and Bradford-West Gwillimbury where the most growth has continued. In 1996, Simcoe County farms occupied about 222,736 hectares. This declined to 216,002 hectares by 2006.

Agricultural Protection Policies Have Been Failing

The Cummings report suggested in 1999 that existing planning measures “may not be enough to prevent further lot creation or the annexation of agricultural land by the larger urban centres, especially Barrie …”  In 1997 there were 441 applications for ‘consent to sever’ and 264 in the first half of 1998.

According to Statistics Canada, the loss of dependable agricultural land is a national problem. A Bulletin published in 2005 highlighted that “about one-half of Canada’s urbanized land was located on dependable agricultural land.”

In South Simcoe, municipalities are faced with large scale proposals to accommodate new populations of 50,000 or more. According to a report prepared by Neptis Foundation in 2004, developers “are proposing large-scale developments on greenfield sites in Simcoe County in order to cover the cost of front-ending infrastructure.” The result is that “attention of public officials, planners and citizens has been focused on responding to development applications rather than on the big picture – how the county and Toronto region can or should grow.”

My next post will continue with some possible new approaches to redefining agriculture in Innisfil.

References:

  • Harry Cummings & Associates: Economic Impact of Agriculture on the Economy of Simcoe County, May 1999
  • L. Birnbaum, L. Nicolet, & Z. Taylor: Simcoe County – The New Growth Frontier, Neptis Foundation, May 2004
  • Ontario Ministry of Agriculture Food and Rural Affairs: Ontario Agriculture & Food Statistics, County Profiles – Western Region
  • Statistics Canada: The loss of dependable agricultural land in Canada, Rural and Small Town Canada Analysis Bulletin, Vol. 6, No. 1 (January 2005)
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