“There’s a way to do it in which we can preserve farmland for future use,” John Goudy, an environmental lawyer, told the annual general meeting of the National Farmer’s Union Ontario chapter.
This will involve close regulation and a willingness on the part of landowners “to continue to act as stewards of the land.”
Goudy said despite all the recent headlines about renewable energy projects such as wind and solar farms, energy projects such as gas and oil exploration have been happening on Ontario farms for about 100 years.
But he told the audience at the Italian Canadian Club farmers today looking to cash in on the energy sector can learn from mistakes made by their peers long ago.
“There are some people now stuck with oil and gas contracts signed 60 or 70 years ago,” Goudy said, adding the key is to understand what is being proposed and make sure the agreement protects both sides, and not just the energy company.
“It’s sort of an industry thing to protect the energy installations rather than protect the farmer,” he said.
While every energy installation includes an automatic physical constraint, many agreements include other constraints such as a “covenant of non-interference” which would prohibit the farmer from doing other work on the farm which might block wind or sun to the energy project.
“That’s a pretty big impediment if a landowner has to get written consent from their tenant to do anything with their own land,” Goudy said, urging anyone considering entering an energy contract to seek a legal opinion before signing anything.
But he said as areas such as Southern Ontario continue to grow, there will naturally be conflicts between agricultural and non-agricultural pursuits.
“Farmland is always going to be where the resources are,” Goudy said.
Sarah Megens, an agricultural researcher who has been examining the agricultural economy in Ontario’s greenbelt, said approximately half of the 1.8 million acres that comprises the greenbelt is farmland.
But Megens noted between 2001 and 2006, there was an 8.5 per cent decrease in this acreage, compared to a one per cent decrease in farmland across Ontario.
As well, the average farm within the greenbelt is 149 acres in size; nearly 100 acres smaller than the provincial average.
But Megens said while there are obvious impacts from rural and urban neighbours being so close – such as dwindling numbers of animal farms because of their proximity to built-up areas – there are also opportunities for the farming community.
This could include the potential for more fruit and vegetable farms, since those farms would be so close to a growing urban market.