Are certain types of agricultural land more significant than others?

The CLI provides a basic classification of land that broadly maps the best to the worst land from an agricultural productivity perspective. However, as noted previously, other factors also differentiate productive ability. Temperature, orientation, wind, erosion, presence of microclimates, and levels of precipitation contribute to the ability to grow certain crops. The Niagara Escarpment for example creates a microclimate that allows the production of crops that will not grow elsewhere.

In addition to geography, economic and social conditions can also assist in the success of agriculture. Proximity to market; transportation resources; a critical mass of agricultural operations and activities; access to services, markets and research facilities; the presence of a skilled work force and lack of conflict also support the industry.

Combinations of circumstances mean specific areas have a unique ability to grow specific crops. Certain crops would not be economic to grow elsewhere. Being located in an established agricultural area allows farmers to share resources, ensures access to services, and generally makes the business of farming easier to conduct. Local government policies can help or hinder farming depending on the flexibility and the degree of understanding of the industry. In establishing a strategy that includes agriculture as a viable industry, all these factors must be considered.

Some people assume that if agricultural land is bought up, the farmer can simply move further from the urban area and start an operation elsewhere. This is not necessarily the case. Agricultural land varies considerably in quality. The ability to produce certain crops successfully is based on many location-specific factors. Once the location is lost, the ability to produce is also lost.

Farmland must be managed to retain its optimal growing capability. Years of management go into the development of productive farmland. A significant investment of time and money is required. Through experience, farmers learn to understand the unique characteristics of specific pieces of land. These advantages are lost upon relocation. Relocation is not easy for farmers. As the average age of farmers increases, there is increased reluctance to move and start again.

Farming is a tremendously complicated occupation. To be successful, farmers must be skilled in a multitude of disciplines, all of which are enhanced by experience. When a farmer leaves the land, this skill set is lost. In ranking the significance of different land for agriculture, all these issues must be factored in.

The location of certain unique lands, such as the grape-producing regions and the tender fruit lands, are well known. Knowledge about the location of other unique lands exists in the farming community, the research community, and government agencies. However, this information is fragmented. It needs to be drawn together and used as the basis for a provincial debate on which, where, why, and how agricultural resources should be protected and which, where, and why certain ones will not.

Agricultural policy should be based on a clear understanding and agreement of its implications. Lands that are unique need to be identified. When deciding to take areas out of production, policy makers need a clear understanding of the implications of that decision.