Effects of Urbanization on Canadian Agriculture

Researchers: Alfons Weersink, University of Guelph

Research Summary

Much of Canada’s Class 1 farmland is located in regions with relatively high and growing population densities. While the number of farmers continue to steadily decline, the number of non-farmers increases rapidly. In Ontario for example, there are no municipalities in which the farm population in rural areas exceeds the non-farm population. Increased urban pressures can significantly impact agriculture in a variety of ways including raising the price of a shrinking supply of farmland and restricting management practices.

The relative proximity of urban populations to farming activities may be a factor that contributes to a farmer’s decision to adopt environmental-friendly production practices. Farmers may act in response to new municipal regulations, concerns about due diligence, or, from social pressures, and these factors are all influenced by residents living in close proximity to farmers. Subsequently, farmers operating in an urban milieu may be more likely to adopt environmental-friendly systems than those farmers located in more remote rural areas. These direct and indirect pressures to adjust farmers’ management practices may increase the cost structure of farms located in the urban milieu. As a result, regional competitive advantage may be affected and thereby, precipitate spatial changes in agriculture production. The purpose of this study is to examine the extent to which farming practices have adjusted to the presence of urbanization in Canada. We compare the adoption rates for environmental management systems (EMSs) by farmers close to urbanized areas versus those in more rural, isolated regions.

Significance of Research

A portion of Canada’s farmland is in close proximity to rapidly expanding urban areas. This presents a policy dilemma so far as farmers’ preferences for land use are likely to conflict with the preferences and concerns of nearby urban residents. This conflict is likely to be intensified by increases in proximity between farmers and non-farm residents and, therefore, we hypothesize that the degree of urbanization was likely to affect farm management decisions. like environmental management. Our study will examine the urbanization effect while simultaneously accounting for other variables (e.g., farm size) that may influence the decision of farmers to adopt environmental management systems. Such analysis will enable us to better isolate the influence of urbanization on farm management decisions. We will also determine if the costs savings of adopting an EMS by farmers in the urban fringe are sufficient to offset the supposed cost increases of farmers operating in such a region or do those farmers face a cost-disadvantage. Our study will empirically assess how urbanization influences farm level decisions. For example, do urban concerns manifest themselves in stricter regulations at the municipal level? Does the presence of increasing numbers of residential neighbors increase the likelihood of legal conflict and thereby, heighten farmers’ desire to pursue activities that enable them to show due diligence? Are farmers voluntarily responding to concerns voiced by urban neighbours? The answer to these questions will illuminate important issues such as the appropriate role of governance in arbitrating conflicts that may emerge between municipalities and/or farmers and urban residents. Expanding urban and ex-urban populations suggest that farm level practices will continue to be scrutinized by their urban counterparts. Policy makers will face the difficult challenge of advising government on how best to respond to the changing needs of farmers and urban residents

Summary of Research Results: Yet to come.