Implementation Procedures for the Agricultural System in Ontario's Greater Golden Horseshoe

February, 2018

These implementation procedures and the accompanying mapping for the Agricultural System are Supplementary Direction to the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe. They were issued by the Province on February 9, 2018 and take effect immediately.

Table of Contents


Summary

Ontario's Greater Golden Horseshoe1 (GGH) is one of the most dynamic and fastest growing regions in North America, containing a large agri-food cluster and Canada's most diverse and productive agricultural area. The agri-food cluster is a key economic driver in the GGH, providing one in nine jobs (Statistics Canada, 2015). The GGH comprises only 3.5% of Ontario's land base but contains 70% of its population and 42% of the province's best (Class 1) agricultural land, based on the Canada Land Inventory (CLI)2.

Ontario is taking an innovative approach to planning for agriculture across the GGH, referred to throughout this document as the "Agricultural System approach." This approach recognizes that farmland and clusters of agri-food infrastructure, services and assets need to coexist and be compatible with rapidly growing communities. To be successful, deliberate and strategic planning should address the needs of the agri-food sector so it can grow and prosper.

This document is focused on the geographic areas covered by the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe and the Greenbelt Plan.

Implementation of the Agricultural System approach requires cooperation between land use planners and economic developers, and between different levels of government, communities and the agri-food sector. Given the significance of the agri-food sector, it should be a priority for economic development and a major consideration when infrastructure, services and programs are planned.

The Agricultural System approach will improve farmland protection while creating the conditions under which the agri-food sector can prosper. The agricultural land base is comprised of prime agricultural areas, including specialty crop areas, and rural lands where farming and related uses are ongoing. While the Province and municipalities have traditionally focused on protection of prime agricultural areas, the Agricultural System approach also recognizes that rural lands used for agriculture help create a continuous land base for agriculture, link prime agricultural areas, and may support elements of the agri-food network.

The Province has issued the agricultural land base map for the GGH. This map may be refined by municipalities in conjunction with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) and the Ministry of Municipal Affairs (MMA) as part of a municipal comprehensive review. Municipalities have important roles to play to support and plan for the agri-food sector.

In addition, OMAFRA's web-based tool, the Agricultural System Portal, includes a series of maps detailing the agri-food network that may be used by municipalities and others to advance economic opportunities for the agri-food sector. Portal maps can also inform and enable assessment of the adverse impacts of new development on the Agricultural System. Impacts must be avoided, or where avoidance is not possible, minimized and mitigated.

This document explains the Agricultural System approach and describes the agricultural land base and the agri-food network. It provides implementation procedures for the Agricultural System to guide municipal refinement of the agricultural land base map and the integration of land use planning and economic development to achieve Agricultural System objectives.

The Agricultural System approach builds on traditional approaches to agricultural land use planning and economic development, and links the two to more holistically consider agricultural viability.


1 Words in italics are defined in the Provincial Policy Statement, Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, Greenbelt Plan, Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan, and/or the Niagara Escarpment Plan.

2 CLI is an interpretative system for assessing the effects of climate and soil characteristics on the limitations of land for growing common field crops.


This diagram shows implementation steps of the agri-food network and agricultural land base

Steps to Implement an Agricultural System in the Greater Golden Horseshoe (text version)

Part A: Context

1 An Agricultural System in Ontario's Greater Golden Horseshoe Area

1.1 Introduction

This document will help municipalities, farmers and others interpret and implement the Agricultural System references and policies in the four land use plans for the Greater Golden Horseshoe (GGH) - the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe (Growth Plan), Greenbelt Plan, Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan and Niagara Escarpment Plan. While the Provincial Policy Statement, 2014 (PPS) does not make reference to an agricultural system, these implementation procedures align with PPS prime agricultural area, rural lands, long term economic prosperity, and other policies.

This document focuses on the entire GGH (Figure 1). While the Niagara Escarpment Plan Area extends beyond the GGH, only that portion in the GGH is addressed. This document recognizes that linkages to the Agricultural System extend outside of the GGH.

This document explains:

  • the Agricultural System concept, including its purpose and desired outcomes
  • OMAFRA's approach to identifying the agricultural land base for the GGH and the process for municipal refinements
  • the role of the agri-food network in the Agricultural System and
  • how municipalities and others can support a thriving agri-food sector through integrated land use planning and economic development.

1.2 The Significance of the Agri-Food Sector

Ontario's GGH is one of the most dynamic and fastest growing regions in North America, containing a significant agri-food cluster and Canada's most diverse and productive agricultural area. With a climate moderated by proximity to the Great Lakes, fertile soils, and access to value chains and major markets, the GGH supports a diverse and dynamic agri-food sector, one of the GGH's most significant economic drivers.

Figure 1 is a coloured map of the Greater Golden Horseshoe area, the study area for the Implementation Procedures
Figure 1: The Greater Golden Horseshoe (Source: Government of Ontario, 2017)

The agriculture, food and beverage sector accounts for approximately one in nine jobs in Ontario. Awareness of the sector's significance to the local, regional and provincial economy may help decision-makers and citizens embrace the Agricultural System concept.


Ontario's thriving agri-food sector:

  • creates jobs in rural and urban areas
  • contributes to a diverse and stable municipal tax base
  • stimulates the cultural vitality of rural communities
  • supports essential rural and environmental services
  • builds rural character and conserves cultural heritage resources
  • produces more than 200 agricultural commodities (the most diverse agricultural area in Canada) with associated market and business opportunities and
  • makes locally grown food available.

The GGH comprises only 3.5% of Ontario's land area, but contains 42% of the province's best (Canada Land Inventory Class 1) farmland (OMAFRA, 2015). High quality farmland is the foundation of the sector. Current and future generations depend on it to supply food, fibre, fur and other bio-feedstock, support a thriving agri-food sector and rural communities, provide habitat and many other valued amenities and adapt to a changing climate. Good quality soil and water are under significant pressure and must be protected to enable local food production, agri-food exports and the growing bioeconomy, and significantly contribute to jobs and economic prosperity in Ontario.

While there are some market advantages that come with the concentration of the agri-food sector in a densely populated area, pressure to fragment and convert the prime agricultural area to non-agricultural uses is strong and ongoing. Managing growth while protecting valuable resources, including agriculture, is at the heart of the Growth Plan and the Greenbelt Plan.

Census of Agriculture indicated that between 2001 and 2016, the area reported to be in agriculture fell by more than ten per cent in the GGH, an area of approximately 170,00 hectares or 420,000 acres (Statistics Canada, 2001 and 2016). Over the past 15 years, an area more than two and a half times the size of the City of Toronto is no longer reported to be in agriculture.

Even so, over 40% of the GGH remains available for agriculture today3 (OMAFRA, 2015). Implementation of the Agricultural System will help to ensure this remaining farmland is better protected and is viable over the long term. The Growth Plan directs growth to built-up areas and to be compact in greenfield areas.


3 Estimated by OMAFRA using data from the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation and Southern Ontario Land Resource Information System.


1.3 Evolution of the Agricultural System Concept

Agriculture and food are shaped by a complex web of relationships between people and the land. This web of relationships is a 'system' or a group of interconnected elements (Caldwell, 2015).

Agricultural systems and natural systems are dependent on and influence the climate, soil, air, biodiversity and water. Agricultural systems also depend on people who operate farms and agri-food businesses, provide services in rural communities, and undertake land use planning, infrastructure planning and economic development.

The Agricultural System protects prime agricultural areas and those rural lands that are within the agricultural land base. In some areas there is overlap between the Agricultural System and the Natural Heritage System; therefore, there may be some traditional Indigenous foods grown in the area mapped for the Agricultural System.

Agriculture and food are central to Ontarians' quality of life, health, environment, cultural expression and heritage, jobs and economic prosperity. By recognizing agriculture as part of a system, the four provincial land use plans create the framework for informing decision-making and integrating economic growth, cultural development and land use planning to promote the sector.

The PPS requires municipalities to protect prime agricultural areas for long-term agricultural use. To also address agricultural viability, a more integrated approach extending beyond land use planning is required.

In 1976, A Strategy for Ontario Farmland declared the Province's commitment to maintaining a permanent, secure and economically viable agricultural industry, not only as a producer of food, but as an important component of the economic base, a source of employment, and the basis of the rural community and the rural way of life (Government of Ontario, 1978). The strategy included measures to ensure the better land was kept for agriculture and programs were in place to support the economic feasibility of agriculture. The Food Land Guidelines (1978) and the PPS (1997, 2005 and 2014) followed, with a focus on ensuring the land base was protected for agriculture.

In 2005, the Greenbelt Plan recognized the concept of an agricultural system. It referred to the agricultural system as a continuous and permanent land base necessary to support long-term agricultural production and economic activity. Along with prime agricultural areas, including specialty crop areas, the Greenbelt Plan recognized that areas of ongoing agriculture and related activities were also part of the agricultural system.

Around the time the Greenbelt was established, the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) Agricultural Action Committee was formed, bringing the local Federations of Agriculture together with municipal land use planners and economic developers to develop an action plan to achieve a thriving and integrated food and farming cluster in the GTA. In 2012, this evolved to a more encompassing 10-year Golden Horseshoe Food and Farming Action Plan, led by an expanded Golden Horseshoe Food and Farming Alliance (GHFFA). To advance the GGH as a leading food and farming cluster, the GHFFA, with the help of affected municipalities and OMAFRA, developed agri-food asset mapping for the GGH. This robust data portal and mapping tool covers the entire agri-food value chain in the GGH. It lays the foundation for an integrated, Agricultural System approach which recognizes the infrastructure, services and other assets on which the agri-food sector depends.

In 2015, the Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation commissioned a study entitled The Agricultural System: Components, Linkages, and Rationale to explore the agricultural system concept. Later that year, the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) and Environmental Defence, again with the help of the Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation, produced the report Farmland at Risk. It discussed the need for Ontario to do a better job of protecting farmland and helping farmers thrive in the GGH. It recommended that the Province identify and map an agricultural system for the GGH, including a productive land base and the full range of inputs and outputs from agriculture.

The report Regional Agri-Food Strategies for the Greater Golden Horseshoe (Planscape, 2015) identified options for protecting the land base and pointed to tools, programs and incentives to enhance the viability of agriculture.


The Golden Horseshoe Food and Farming Alliance, with the support of 21 municipalities and OMAFRA, created robust Agri-Food Asset Mapping for the GGH. By combining many data sources and using Geographic Information Systems, they produced a database and mapping to help identify the strengths and weaknesses of existing agri-food assets, gaps and new opportunities. This is one of the data sources used in OMAFRA's Agricultural System Portal.


To support the ten-year review of the Growth Plan, Greenbelt Plan, Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan and Niagara Escarpment Plan, the Province appointed an advisory panel, led by David Crombie, to develop recommendations on how to amend and improve the plans. The panel's recommendation #28 reads: "Building on the Agricultural System approach in the current Greenbelt Plan, work with municipalities, the agriculture sector and other stakeholders to provide policy direction and guidance towards the consistent identification, mapping and protection of an integrated agricultural system across the GGH" (Advisory Panel on the Coordinated Review of the Growth Plan, the Greenbelt Plan, the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan and the Niagara Escarpment Plan, 2016).

In addition to these provincial, GGH and Greenbelt initiatives, municipalities have completed agricultural economic impact studies and have developed agricultural action plans that address both land use and economic development, for example, in Niagara Region (PlanScape, 2010), Northumberland (County of Northumberland, 2008) and Wellington County (Millier, Dickinson and Blais, 2012).

Over the years, agricultural stakeholders also suggested that a systems approach be applied to agriculture, like that used for natural heritage. They suggested treating agriculture, natural heritage and water equitably and emphasized the need to recognize the synergies and overlapping geographies of these systems.

Together, the Agricultural System references and policies in the Provincial plans, these implementation procedures, OMAFRA's agricultural land base map, and the agri-food mapping portal provide a framework to protect farmland, while supporting the viability of the agri-food sector.

1.4 Purpose and Outcomes

As noted, the 2005 Greenbelt Plan put forward the notion of an Agricultural System focused on the land base for agriculture. The updated plan takes a more holistic approach, expanding the focus beyond farmland protection to include measures that help create the conditions under which the agri-food sector can prosper. Applying an Agricultural System approach recognizes the importance of the agri-food sector to regional and provincial economies. It recognizes infrastructure, services and agri-food assets along the value chain that the agri-food sector needs to thrive. Municipalities, economic developers, land use planners, farmers, agri-food businesses, and the Province can reinforce and advance the GGH's position as one of North America's most significant agri-food clusters.

The desired outcomes of the Agricultural System approach are:

  1. Active planning for agriculture and rural economic development based on reliable mapping, data and tools
  2. Improved viability of agriculture and growth of the agri-food sector
  3. Better protection of the agricultural land base
  4. Increased land use planning consistency and certainty across municipalities
  5. Reinforcement of the synergies between agricultural, natural heritage and water systems, as outlined in provincial policy
  6. Collaboration between the Province, municipalities, farmers and businesses with a common interest in a strong agri-food sector

1.5 Effect of the Implementation Procedures and Provincial Planning Context

The implementation procedures presented in Part B of this document are meant to complement and explain the intent of Agricultural System references and policies in the Growth Plan, Greenbelt Plan, Niagara Escarpment Plan and Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan.

The GGH land use plans build upon the policy foundation provided by the PPS. As such, they should be read in conjunction with the PPS. The policies of the GGH plans take precedence over the policies of the PPS to the extent of any conflict, except where the relevant law provides otherwise. Provincial guidelines help planning authorities interpret provincial policy and reduce variability in protection. These Agricultural System implementation procedures are intended to serve the purpose of provincial guidelines for designating prime agricultural areas in the GGH and may provide insights for areas beyond the GGH.

The Growth Plan states that the Province will identify, establish or update the Agricultural System for the GGH as Supplementary Direction (policy 5.2.2.2). These implementation procedures and accompanying mapping are the Supplementary Direction referred to in the Growth Plan. Upper- and single-tier municipalities may, through a municipal comprehensive review, refine or augment Provincial mapping in a manner that conforms with the Growth Plan and these implementation procedures (Growth Plan policy 4.2.6.9). Most importantly, prime agricultural areas must be identified as directed in these implementation procedures to consistently protect and achieve geographic continuity of the agricultural land base. These implementation procedures also identify elements of the agri-food network and recommend how to maintain and enhance functional connections within the network, as required by Growth Plan policy 4.2.6.4.

Many key provincial initiatives also link to the Agricultural System. For example, the Ontario Climate Change Action Plan includes actions related to healthy soils and the carbon sequestration potential of agricultural lands. OMAFRA's soil strategy addresses soil health and productivity for societal, economic and environmental needs.

The GGH is covered by a number of treaties that provide for treaty rights. Indigenous communities may have Aboriginal rights in this area. OMAFRA recognizes the role that Indigenous peoples have in the growth and development of this region. Provincial policy will be implemented in a manner that is consistent with the recognition and affirmation of existing Aboriginal and treaty rights under section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982.

The subsections below briefly summarize provincial plan policies that pertain to the Agricultural System. Appendix 1 lists provincial plan policy references under main topics related to the Agricultural System. Refer to the actual provincial land use plans for the full set of policies and definitions. The plans should be read in their entirety and in conjunction with all other applicable land use planning policy and law.


Agricultural System - The system mapped and issued by the Minister in accordance with this Plan, comprised of a group of inter-connected elements that collectively create a viable, thriving agricultural sector. It has two components:

  1. An agricultural land base comprised of prime agricultural areas, including specialty crop areas, and rural lands that together create a continuous productive land base for agriculture;
  2. An agri-food network which includes infrastructure, services and assets important to the viability of the agri-food sector.

Agri-Food Network - Within the Agricultural System, a network that includes elements important to the viability of the agri-food sector such as regional infrastructure; on-farm buildings and infrastructure; agricultural services, farm markets, distributors, and primary processing; and vibrant, agriculture-supportive communities.

- Growth Plan


1.5.1 Growth Plan and Greenbelt Plan

The Growth Plan addresses growth management, and both the Growth Plan and the Greenbelt Plan contain policies on protecting the Agricultural System and the Natural Heritage System. The two plans have similar policies that relate to agriculture and the Agricultural System by:

  • Specifying that the Province will identify an Agricultural System for the GGH that includes a continuous land base comprised of prime agricultural areas, including specialty crop areas, and rural lands, as well as a complementary agri-food network that supports long-term agricultural production and the economic viability of the agri-food sector.
  • Requiring municipalities to designate prime agricultural areas, including specialty crop areas, in accordance with mapping and implementation procedures issued by the Province, and protect these areas for long-term use for agriculture.
  • Requiring municipalities to maintain and enhance the functional and economic connections to the agri-food network. Unlike prime agricultural areas, the agri-food network is not a land use designation.
  • Requiring that upper- and single-tier municipalities, as part of their municipal comprehensive review, undertake an agricultural impact assessment (AIA)5 when determining the location of a settlement area boundary expansion. To conduct an AIA, guidance issued by the Province should be used. Impacts to the entire Agricultural System must be assessed and adverse impacts avoided, and where avoidance is not possible, minimized and mitigated as determined through an AIA.
  • Requiring AIAs or equivalent analysis as part of an environmental assessment for infrastructure projects (e.g. planned corridors) that cross prime agricultural areas to avoid or, if avoidance is not possible, minimize and mitigate impacts to the extent feasible.
  • Requiring applications for new mineral aggregate operations within prime agricultural areas to be supported by an AIA and, where possible, to maintain or improve connectivity of the Agricultural System.
  • Suggesting that AIAs be required for other types of non-agricultural uses that are proposed on rural lands.
  • Requiring that land use compatibility be achieved, in particular in areas where agricultural uses and non-agricultural uses interface.
  • Permitting a variety of uses in prime agricultural areas (agricultural, agriculture-related and on-farm diversified uses), aligned with the PPS and the Guidelines on Permitted Uses in Prime Agricultural Areas (OMAFRA, 2016).
  • Requiring municipalities to implement strategies to support and enhance the Agricultural System when undertaking integrated planning for growth management, including goods movement and transportation planning.
  • Encouraging municipalities to support the long-term economic prosperity and viability of the agri-food sector, for example, through:
    • local food initiatives (e.g. food hubs)
    • integration of agricultural economic development, infrastructure, goods movement and freight considerations with land use planning
    • preparing regional agri-food and economic development strategies
    • engaging with local farmers and agri-food experts (e.g. through agricultural advisory committees and liaison officers) and
    • providing outreach and education opportunities.

5 OMAFRA's AIA guidelines will provide additional detail. Other studies may also be required for proposed settlement area boundary expansions, proposed infrastructure, and applications for mineral aggregate operations, and other proposed non-agricultural uses.


The Greenbelt Plan aims to protect the agricultural land base, as well as and ecological and hydrological features, areas and functions within the Greenbelt area. It states that the Agricultural System, along with a Natural Heritage System, water resource system and settlement areas, is part of the Protected Countryside. The Greenbelt Plan states that the Natural Heritage System is an overlay6 on top of the prime agricultural area and rural lands designations, not a separate, distinct designation. The Growth Plan states that the Natural Heritage System is an overlay outside of settlement areas.

Greenbelt Plan and Growth Plan policies allow the full range of agricultural, agriculture-related and on-farm diversified uses in Natural Heritage Systems outside of key natural heritage features and key hydrologic features. In key natural heritage features and key hydrologic features, expansions or alterations to existing buildings or structures for agricultural uses, agriculture-related uses and on-farm diversified uses may be permitted subject to conditions. The Greenbelt Plan contains similar policies.

A natural heritage or hydrologic evaluation (commonly referred to as an environmental impact study and a hydrological evaluation, respectively) is not required for new or expanded agricultural buildings and structures on lands adjacent to key natural heritage features and key hydrologic features, provided a 30- metre buffer, a vegetation protection zone, is maintained from the feature (e.g. wetland, woodland). In the Niagara Peninsula Tender Fruit and Grape Area, a minimum setback of 15- metres is required from permanent or intermittent streams where the stream also functions as an agricultural swale, roadside ditch or municipal drain, as determined through Provincially approved mapping. Policy 3.2.5.8 of the Greenbelt Plan outlines the full set of requirements.

Both the Greenbelt Plan and Growth Plan recognize that farms within the Agricultural System contain important natural heritage and hydrologic features and functions, as well as water resource systems. Good farmland stewardship benefits both the environment and agriculture. Policies in the Growth Plan and Greenbelt Plan recognize the complementary nature of the three systems.

The plans also identify the need to protect cultural heritage resources, including built heritage resources, cultural heritage landscapes and archaeological resources. These cultural heritage resources may be located on farms and/or agri-food operations.


6 An overlay is applied overtop of a certain geographic area already designated within an official plan. The intent of an overlay is to apply additional regulations on development in the overlay area. The conditions imposed by an overlay are in addition to, and not in lieu of, the permissions or restrictions associated with any underlying designation. Both the Growth Plan and Greenbelt Plan require the Natural Heritage System to be mapped as an overlay.


"The GGH contains a broad array of important hydrologic and natural heritage features and areas, a vibrant and diverse agricultural land base, irreplaceable cultural heritage resources, and valuable renewable and non-renewable resources. These lands, features and resources are essential for the long-term quality of life, economic prosperity, environmental health and ecological integrity of the region. They collectively provide essential ecosystem services, including water storage and filtration, cleaner air and habitats, and support pollinators, carbon storage, adaptation and resilience to climate change.

These valuable assets must be wisely protected and managed as part of planning for future growth. This is of particular importance in the fast-growing GGH, which supports some of the most diverse vegetation and wildlife in Canada, including the Niagara Escarpment (a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve) and the Oak Ridges Moraine - two of Ontario's most significant landforms..."

- Section 4.1, Growth Plan


1.5.2 Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan

This is an ecologically and hydrologically based plan that includes Agricultural System references to better protect prime agricultural areas and recognize the infrastructure, services and assets that support the viability of the agri-food sector. Prime agricultural areas are frequently found within the Countryside Area designation, but may also be located in Natural Core Areas and Natural Linkage Areas. To implement the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan, prime agricultural areas and rural lands within the agricultural land base should be identified in accordance with the broader Agricultural System approach, recognizing both the agricultural land base and agri-food network components. Linkages to the Agricultural System outside of the Oak Ridges Moraine area should also be considered. The Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan also recognizes the moraine's important cultural heritage resources, and supports the identification, conservation, use and wise management of cultural heritage resources to support the social, economic and cultural well-being of all communities. Recognizing the cultural heritage value of agricultural areas supports the agricultural sector and provides sustainable benefits to all communities.

1.5.3 Niagara Escarpment Plan

This is an ecologically based plan implemented by the Niagara Escarpment Commission through a development control permit system in the plan area. This contrasts with the other three GGH plans which are implemented through municipal official plans and zoning by-laws. The approach to implementing the Agricultural System in the Niagara Escarpment Plan Area is like that outlined for the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan. Within the Niagara Escarpment Plan Area, prime agricultural areas are frequently found within the Escarpment Rural Area designation, but portions of the Escarpment Natural Area and Escarpment Protection Area designations may also have prime agricultural areas.

In both Escarpment Rural Areas and Escarpment Protection Areas, the protection and maintenance of cultural heritage resources and their histories is identified as an objective along with protection of agricultural lands. Like the other provincial plans, the recognition of the cultural heritage value of agricultural areas can support the agricultural sector and provide sustainable benefits to all communities.

In the context of implementing the Niagara Escarpment Plan, prime agricultural areas in the Niagara Escarpment Plan Area should be identified in accordance with the broader Agricultural System, recognizing both the agricultural land base and the agri-food network components. Linkages to the Agricultural System outside of the Niagara Escarpment Plan Area should also be considered (Niagara Escarpment Plan, Landscape Approach).

The Plan may be updated through a plan amendment, to include Agricultural System policies to better align with other provincial plans.

1.6 Innovations in the Agricultural System Approach

The Agricultural System approach differs from conventional land use planning approaches for agriculture in Ontario in a few key ways:

  1. It aims for continuity of protection of prime agricultural areas across the GGH using common nomenclature for land use designations.
  2. It recognizes the important role of rural lands in agriculture and supporting elements of the agri-food network.
  3. It reinforces the need to integrate agricultural viability considerations with farmland protection.
  4. It recognizes overlaps and synergies between agriculture and natural heritage.

At this time, protection of agricultural land varies across the GGH. Similar land may be designated prime agricultural area in one municipality and designated rural lands across the municipal boundary, even when soils and other land use characteristics are comparable (Figure 2). While all planning decisions must be consistent with the PPS and conform with applicable provincial land use plans, there may be differences in policy interpretation and application due to differing study methodologies and growth pressures from one municipality to another.


Prime agricultural area: means areas where prime agricultural lands predominate. This includes areas of prime agricultural lands and associated Canada Land Inventory Class 4 through 7 lands, and additional areas where there is a local concentration of farms which exhibit characteristics of ongoing agriculture. Prime agricultural areas may be identified by OMAFRA using guidelines developed by the Province as amended from time to time. A prime agricultural area may also be identified through an alternative agricultural land evaluation system approved by the Province.

Prime agricultural land: means specialty crop areas and/or Canada Land Inventory Class 1, 2, and 3 lands, as amended from time to time, in this order of priority for protection.


Consistent mapping of the agricultural land base and use of common nomenclature are needed to:

  • Ensure provincial agricultural resources are consistently protected for long- term agricultural use across municipal boundaries.
  • Provide a strong basis for prime agricultural area and rural lands designations, policies and planning decisions which impact agriculture.
  • Direct non-agricultural uses away from prime agricultural areas wherever possible.
  • Set a consistent approach across municipalities and land use plans to farmland protection, avoidance of conflicting uses, permitted uses, and implementation of other measures to enhance agricultural viability.

During consultations for the Coordinated Plan Review, many stakeholders expressed the desire for additional assurance that farmland be protected over the long term. Agricultural stakeholders, in particular, said they needed greater certainty that farmland would remain in agriculture to make long-term business decisions.

Along with the goal of continuity of protection across the GGH, it is important to recognize how the PPS defines prime agricultural areas. Prime agricultural areas include specialty crop areas, CLI Classes 1 to 3 lands and associated Classes 4 through 7 lands, and additional areas with a local concentration of farms exhibiting characteristics of ongoing agriculture. This is broader than prime agricultural lands (CLI Classes 1 to 3 lands) and may go beyond the areas municipalities have already identified.

Figure 2: Conventional vs. Agricultural System Approach (outside of the Greenbelt)

Figure 2: Conventional vs. Agricultural System Approach (outside of the Greenbelt) (text version)

While protection of prime agricultural areas has been provincial policy since the 1970s, the Agricultural System approach broadens the land protection concept by recognizing the important role of rural lands in agricultural production and the agri-food network. Even if rural lands do not include prime agricultural land (i.e. CLI Classes 1 to 3 land), these lands are often used to grow crops or raise livestock and may link prime agricultural areas into a continuous land base and/or support assets that are part of the agri-food network. In essence, they are integral to a functional agricultural land base.

To consistently identify the agricultural land base across the GGH, the Province has mapped the agricultural land base. The methodology OMAFRA used to do this is described in Section 2.1 and in the accompanying Agricultural System Mapping Method report (OMAFRA, 2017).

OMAFRA's agricultural land base map may be refined by upper- and single-tier municipalities during municipal comprehensive review based on additional information and important local context (Section 3.2). The Province will support these refinement efforts by sharing data and providing guidance. Refinements will be submitted to the Province for review and approval.

A key focus of the Agricultural System approach is agricultural viability. To help support the integration of agricultural viability with the agricultural land base, OMAFRA has mapped elements of the agri-food network and identified a range of information and tools that may be used to support the agri-food sector (Section 3.2). Municipalities and others can use the mapping and tools to identify existing agri-food clusters and assess the potential to develop new opportunities.

Additionally, the Greenbelt Plan and Growth Plan recognize the linkage between agriculture and natural heritage. By requiring the Natural Heritage System to be an overlay and supporting connectivity of the systems across the landscape, the plans recognize their complementary nature.

While commercial food production is a significant focus of the Agricultural System, the Natural Heritage System supports traditional Indigenous food sources such as wild rice, wild berries, wild leeks and game.


2 Provincial Identification of the Agricultural System

Provincial identification of the agricultural land base and the agri-food network is summarized in this section.

Throughout the process, OMAFRA consulted with municipalities, experts and leaders including economic developers, land use planners, farmers, agri-food businesses, Indigenous communities and environmental groups.


Details on OMAFRA's mapping method can be found in Appendix 2, with a more in-depth explanation of the mapping methodology provided in the document Agricultural System Mapping Method (OMAFRA, 2017). This document is available by request.


2.1 Agricultural Land Base Methodology

By its definition, the agricultural land base comprises prime agricultural areas, including specialty crop areas, and rural lands that together create a continuous productive land base for agriculture7. OMAFRA's agricultural land base map identifies prime agricultural areas and candidate areas for the agricultural land base. When municipalities undertake municipal comprehensive review, these candidate areas may be added to prime agricultural areas or designated rural lands. This is explained in the sections to follow.

In preparing the agricultural land base map for the GGH, the Province was guided by the following principles:

  • use of consistent, rigorous and transparent methods across the entire study area
  • use of the best available information appropriate for regional-scale analysis as a basis for land use designations and planning decisions and
  • recognition of the overlap and synergies between the Natural Heritage System, water resource systems and the Agricultural System and the need to protect and maintain the health of all three systems.

7 In the Agricultural System definition, the word "agriculture" is intended to capture the full range of uses under the agricultural uses definition (e.g. the growing of crops and raising of livestock).


2.1.1 Prime Agricultural Areas

Prime agricultural areas are intended by provincial policy to incorporate areas where prime agricultural lands (CLI Classes 1 to 3) predominate plus other associated Classes 4 to 7 lands and additional areas where there is a local concentration of farms with characteristics of ongoing agriculture. OMAFRA identified the following as prime agricultural areas for the purposes of its agricultural land base mapping:

  1. Areas already designated as prime agricultural areas in approved official plans as per the most up-to-date mapping available to OMAFRA.
  2. Areas identified by OMAFFRA as meeting the definition of prime agricultural areas.

Certain lands were excluded from these areas, such as First Nation reserves, airports regulated by the federal government, and large natural heritage features described below. The remaining land area comprised the prime agricultural areas layer in OMAFRA's agricultural land base map. Prime agricultural areas are a high priority for protection for long-term agricultural uses.

While OMAFRA's mapping is based on best available data and reasoned assumptions, like all models, it may not capture exceptions or unique local circumstances. This prime agricultural area mapping is intended to be reviewed and refined during municipal comprehensive review based on the methodology outlined in Section 3.2.

2.1.1.1 Existing Designated Prime Agricultural Areas

As noted, core elements of the agricultural land base include Provincially identified specialty crop areas and prime agricultural areas designated in approved official plans.

Specialty Crop Areas

The PPS and other provincial plans require that specialty crop areas be given the highest priority for protection of all prime agricultural areas. Specialty crop areas are areas where crops are grown like tender fruit (e.g. peaches, cherries and plums), grapes, other fruit crops, vegetable crops, greenhouse crops, and crops from agriculturally developed organic soil. Usually a combination of suitable soil, climate, specialized production skills and capital investments enable successful specialty crop production.

Specialty crop areas are unique and their significance is assessed based on factors such as production diversity and concentration, agricultural investments, specific soil types, microclimate, infrastructure, and economic significance (e.g. employment, tourism, agri-food businesses, tax revenue).

The Greenbelt Plan recognizes and defines two specialty crop areas: the Niagara Peninsula Tender Fruit and Grape Area and the Holland Marsh. The boundaries of the specialty crop areas in the Greenbelt Plan cannot be refined by municipalities.

Municipally Designated Prime Agricultural Areas

OMAFRA's agricultural land base map includes prime agricultural areas that were designated or recognized by upper- and single-tier official plans and in effect at the time the provincial agricultural land base map was created. Approximately 83 per cent of the prime agricultural areas shown in OMAFRA's agricultural land base map are already designated as such by municipalities.

2.1.1.2 Additional Prime Agricultural Areas Identified by OMAFRA

In addition to existing designated prime agricultural areas , the prime agricultural areas shown in the provincial agricultural land base map include lands identified by OMAFRA through its Land Evaluation and Area Review (LEAR) and other analysis. The LEAR method completed for the GGH calculates a quantitative score for each unit of land that reflects the land's relative potential for agriculture. Large areas that predominantly received high LEAR scores were identified as prime agricultural areas in the agricultural land base map. Details on the LEAR process, principles and methods are in Appendix 2 and in OMAFRA's Agricultural System Mapping Method document.

2.1.2 Candidate Areas for the Agricultural Land Base

OMAFRA identified candidate areas for the agricultural land base as areas that are equal to or larger than 250 hectares which received medium LEAR scores and are in agricultural production (based on Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada's Annual Crop Inventory).

Municipalities must assess whether to include candidate areas as prime agricultural areas or rural lands in the agricultural land base. The options are outlined in Section 3.2.1.2.

2.1.3 Interactions Between the Natural Heritage System, the Water Resource System and the Agricultural Land Base

The Province has developed an Infosheet on agriculture and natural heritage in the provincial plans. It describes the connections between natural heritage and the Agricultural System in the GGH, and provides an overview of the policies governing land uses in these areas.


The natural heritage and agricultural policies in the Growth Plan and Greenbelt Plan recognize the linkages between agriculture and natural heritage by stating that the Natural Heritage System is to be an overlay, allowing the full range of existing and new agricultural, agriculture-related and on-farm diversified uses and normal farm practices in the Natural Heritage System. Key natural heritage features such as wetlands may occur within or beyond the Natural Heritage System. While agricultural uses may continue in key natural heritage features, protection of these features is required by provincial policy.

Both the Greenbelt Plan and the Growth Plan note that farms in the Agricultural System include and contribute to the protection of important natural heritage and hydrologic features and functions. With good stewardship, these farms can bring both environmental benefits and agricultural protection.

Farms often contribute societal benefits such as clean air, clean water, groundwater recharge and wildlife habitat and Natural Heritage Systems and water resource systems provide benefits to farms (e.g. wetlands help to store and replenish water supplies to streams and aquifers which are relied on by agriculture and provide habitat for pollinators that may enhance agricultural production.

When OMAFRA undertook the GGH LEAR, lands in key natural heritage features within and outside of the Natural Heritage System and key hydrologic features and areas were included in the evaluation. This recognized that some lands within the Natural Heritage System and water resource systems are and could continue to be used for agricultural uses. For example, agricultural uses sometimes occur in water recharge areas, valleylands, woodlands and other features. Including these lands in the GGH LEAR analysis enabled the appropriate inclusion of large, continuous prime agricultural areas that may include wetlands or other natural features. Areas predominantly in natural cover received a lower LEAR score than areas with more land in agriculture, all other factors being equal. (See OMAFRA's Agricultural System Mapping Method document).


For the purpose of the GGH LEAR, prime agricultural areas include large, continuous areas, generally 250 hectares or larger. They may have some areas of lower capability land and scattered non-agricultural uses. Prime agricultural areas should not divide individual property parcels or exclude small, non-agricultural uses that are surrounded by agricultural uses.
Prime agricultural areas frequently include wetlands and other natural features. Likewise, natural features may contain lands in existing agricultural uses. Given their overlapping nature, it is important to recognize this relationship appropriately in official plan policy and mapping (see Section 3.2).


For the agricultural land base map, OMAFRA identified large, continuous areas (larger than 250 ha) of provincially significant wetlands and provincially significant Life Science ANSIs, and all areas designated in the Niagara Escarpment Plan as "Escarpment Natural Area" in a separate colour. These areas were removed from the prime agricultural area because even though agriculture may continue in these areas, they do not qualify as prime agricultural areas. Provincial mapping of these areas throughout the GGH was also available.

As with other smaller non-agricultural uses that occur within prime agricultural areas, smaller natural heritage features were not removed from prime agricultural areas.

2.2 Agri-Food Network

The second component of the Agricultural System is the agri-food network. It complements and supports the agricultural land base. The agri-food network includes the infrastructure, services and other agri-food assets that are needed to sustain and enhance agriculture and the prosperity and viability of the broader agri-food sector. OMAFRA's Agricultural System Portal contains information on the agri-food network, covering parts of the value chain from production through to primary processing.

The Greenbelt Plan and Growth Plan encourage municipalities to plan for the success of the agri-food sector, in part by recognizing and supporting the agri-food network. This may be done in a variety of ways, discussed in detail in Section 3.3.

The study area for the agri-food network was the entire GGH plus a one kilometre buffer beyond the GGH. The intent of the buffer is to reflect the functional Agricultural System which extends into adjoining municipalities. Where mapping was available provincially, it was included in the mapping portal beyond the one kilometre buffer.

2.2.1 Network Elements

Agriculture depends on a complete value chain to thrive in the modern economy. The agri-food network includes but is not limited to the following elements:

  • Infrastructure such as
    • transportation infrastructure (e.g. roads, rails, ports, airfreight airports)
    • drainage and irrigation systems
  • Regional agri-food assets and services including
    • food and beverage primary processors (e.g. dairies, cheese plants, wineries, cideries, canners, biomass processors)8
    • grain elevators
    • refrigerated warehousing and storage
    • livestock assets (e.g. auctions, meat plants, abattoirs)
    • agricultural research facilities
    • fresh produce terminals, food hubs, distributors, wholesalers, markets
  • agricultural inputs and services such as
    • mechanical services
    • equipment dealerships
    • feed mills
    • seed, fertilizer and feed suppliers
    • grading, packing and distribution facilities
    • custom operators
    • large animal veterinarians
    • crop and nutrient management consultants
  • on-farm buildings/structures and infrastructure including
    • barns
    • feed storage
    • grain dryers
    • maple syrup shacks and honey houses
    • tobacco kilns
    • aquaculture facilities
    • manure storage
    • climate-controlled growing and storage facilities
    • on-farm biogas facilities
    • accommodations for full-time farm labour when the size and nature of the operation requires additional employment
  • vibrant, agriculture-supportive communities.

8 While the agri-food sector captures the entire value chain of agricultural commodities, for the purposes of this Agricultural System work, the agri-food network stops at primary processing (e.g. granary, dairy, abattoir, winery) and does not extend to secondary processing further down the value chain (e.g. bakeries, frozen meal plants, beer and liquor stores, restaurants). Secondary processing and retailing are still important to the agri-food value chain and the entire Agricultural System, however.


Many of these elements can be mapped for economic development purposes (e.g. value chain mapping to identify opportunities to create or grow clusters).

In addition to these agri-food network elements, infrastructure such as high-speed broadband internet, natural gas and electrical utilities are important to the growth and innovation of the sector and are part of the agri-food network.

Access to reliable broadband services is increasingly essential for businesses including monitoring of buildings and equipment, placing orders, tracking performance, enhancing efficiencies, marketing products, and accessing information on weather, sales and market opportunities. Energy is required for reasons including heating, ventilation, feed systems, processing, lighting, and motors.

Elements of the agri-food network may be located in prime agricultural areas, on rural lands or in settlement areas. Urban or rural, these elements are all part of the agri-food network.

Urban agriculture may also be part of the Agricultural System, including the growing of plants and raising of animals on private property, in community gardens, school gardens, indoor agriculture, food and beverage primary processing and distribution (e.g. farmers markets, food terminal). OMAFRA has an Urban Agriculture Business Information Bundle and Sustain Ontario and the Association of Municipalities of Ontario have resources to support urban agriculture. Urban agriculture elements can be mapped by municipalities and linkages to the broader Agricultural System recognized.

Cultural heritage resources are also important to the Agricultural System, including archaeological sites, built heritage resources and cultural heritage landscapes. These areas may be mapped, conserved and considered in terms of their role in supporting the agri-food sector (e.g. value to agri-business and agri-tourism uses).

Vibrant, agriculture-supportive communities are communities that encourage businesses in the agri-food network to establish in their communities. They may provide the sector with a workforce, trades people, customers and supplies, as well as social, health, financial, insurance, legal, agrology, veterinary, educational, research and technology services. While agriculture-supportive communities cannot be mapped in the same way that most other elements of the agri-food network can, they are critical to the success of the sector.

Examples of vibrant, agriculture-supportive community initiatives that specifically target the agri-food sector for growth include:

  • Durham Region: Durham Farm Connections (e.g. agricultural education and mobile educational exhibits); Durham Agricultural Strategy.
  • Haldimand County: Rural Business and Tourism Community Improvement Plan.
  • Halton Region: Agricultural Community Development Fund; Halton Agricultural Advisory Committee; Agricultural Liaison Officer.
  • Hamilton Port Authority: flour mill and grain terminal for exports.
  • Town of Lincoln: identifies itself as a "Centre of Excellence for Agriculture" with a specific focus on horticulture.
  • Northumberland County: integration of agri-food into most economic development activities; Ontario Agri-Food Venture Centre (OAFVC)9; support for beverage farming10 (Figure 3).

9 The Ontario Agri-Food Venture Centre supports niche fresh fruit and vegetable value-added opportunities to provide second source revenues to farm operations. The facility provides food processing facility rental, refrigeration and freezer cold storage, training, research and development, and batch testing, as well as packing, labelling and storage services.

10 Northumberland County identified "beverage farming" as an economic development opportunity and began offering courses to attract and train new businesses. In addition, at the request of local hop growers, it added a hop pelletizer to the OAFVC, helping to fill a critical gap in the value chain.


2.2.2 Data Sources

Information on the agri-food network is available from OMAFRA's Agricultural System Portal. It identifies agri-food assets, clusters and supply chains within a single municipality and across municipalities. Much of the data displayed in the maps originates from the Agri-Food Asset Mapping for the Greater Golden Horseshoe developed by the GHFFA. The GHFFA database, covering the entire GGH, was developed with the support of municipalities and OMAFRA. While OMAFRA's mapping of the agri-food network is accessible via web portal, municipalities can access detailed data on the GGH directly from the GHFFA's asset mapping.

The North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) was used to classify agri-food assets within the GGH. OMAFRA identified and consulted on the specific components to include in the agri-food network of the Agricultural System.

OMAFRA used its own data to cover a one kilometre band beyond the GGH to recognize that functional supply chains extend beyond the GGH boundaries. Where mapping was available provincially, it was added to the Agricultural System Portal.

OMAFRA's agri-food network mapping and the GHFFA's asset mapping are starting points for municipalities and others seeking to become aware of current infrastructure, services and agri-food assets important to the viability of the sector. As noted, other elements should be considered such as availability of high-speed broadband, natural gas and 3-phase power. These may be mapped at the local level.

Figure 3: Example of an Agri-Food Value Chain (courtesy of Northumberland County)

Figure 3: Example of an Agri-Food Value Chain (courtesy of Northumberland County) (text version)

2.2.3 Uses of Agri-Food Network Information

Awareness of the agri-food network and its importance to the sector should inform economic development strategies, investment decisions, local food initiatives and AIAs. When land use, infrastructure planning and economic development initiatives are aligned, the agricultural sector benefits.

Information on the agri-food network will enable municipalities to look beyond their own boundaries at existing functional clusters and cluster development opportunities with adjoining communities.

The provincial land use plans for the GGH require AIAs for settlement area boundary expansions, new mineral aggregate operation applications in prime agricultural areas and applicable infrastructure projects. AIAs are required to ensure impacts on the entire Agricultural System are avoided, or where avoidance is not possible, they are minimized and mitigated. On rural lands, provincial plan policies do not require an AIA, but an AIA can be an effective tool to meet policy outcomes. The Agricultural System Portal can be used to identify the locations of prime agricultural areas and rural lands within the agricultural land base, and agri-food network elements that together comprise the Agricultural System. AIA requirements are outlined in OMAFRA's draft AIA guidelines.

Figure 5 is a sample map using OMAFRA's Agricultural System Information Portal.  It shows where vegetable crops are grown, processed and stored in the GGH.

Figure 4: Example Map with Selected Mapping Layers from the Agricultural System Portal


Part B: Implementation Procedures

3 Implementation of Agricultural System Policies

This section focuses on implementation of the Agricultural System policies in the provincial plans through official plans and other processes and strategies. Implementation involves consistent designation of prime agricultural areas, including specialty crop areas, and a recognition that rural lands may be part of the agricultural land base. It also involves maintaining and improving the agri-food network. While the Agricultural System Portal maps elements of the agri-food network, the network itself is not expected to be designated in official plans. Rather, awareness of the agri-food network is needed for economic development purposes and for completion of AIAs.

Through the implementation of the Agricultural System policies, municipalities have the opportunity to actively plan for agricultural and food systems. This means recognizing the importance of agriculture in decision-making and considering how a vibrant agri-food sector can be promoted over the long term through strategic municipal decisions. Municipal actions are not expected to fully address the challenges farmers face in local and global markets. However, municipalities play a crucial role in protecting the land base for agriculture so that it can adapt and grow, promoting agricultural viability by preventing conflicting uses and supporting and enhancing agriculturally-related services and infrastructure through the agri-food network. It is also important for municipalities to consider Indigenous harvesting and cultural practices when making decisions.

The official plan review process is one of the most important opportunities to take a positive planning approach to agriculture, and is outlined in Section 3.2. Just as important, the Agricultural System policies can be met through economic development initiatives, asset management plans, and multi-regional collaborations, as described in Section 3.3. By integrating economic development actions with a positive land use planning approach to agriculture, municipalities and the Province can more effectively achieve the Agricultural System outcomes identified in Section 1.4.

3.1 Before the Official Plan Review is Completed

The Growth Plan requires the Province to identify an Agricultural System for the GGH (policy 4.2.6.1). This has been achieved with the release of the Agricultural System mapping on February 9, 2018. Growth Plan policy 4.2.6.8 states that prime agricultural areas identified in official plans that are approved and in effect as of July 1, 2017, will continue to be protected in accordance with the official plan until the provincial mapping has been issued. Once the provincial mapping is issued, it prevails and all land use planning decisions in the GGH must implement the Agricultural System.

The provincially mapped Agricultural System includes a continuous productive land base, comprised of prime agricultural areas, including specialty crop areas, and rural lands, as well as a complementary agri-food network that together create a viable, thriving agricultural sector. Policy 4.2.6.2 of the Growth Plan states that "prime agricultural areas, including specialty crop areas, will be designated in accordance with mapping identified by the Province and these areas will be protected for long-term use for agriculture."

Upper- and single-tier municipalities may comprehensively incorporate the provincially issued agricultural land base mapping of prime agricultural areas, without refinements or augmentations, into their official plans through an official plan amendment, either during or before a municipal comprehensive review.

Should an upper- or single-tier municipality propose to refine or augment the prime agricultural areas mapped in the Province's agricultural land base map, this may only occur during municipal comprehensive review. Refinements or augmentations would need to be consistent with provincial plan policies and these implementation procedures (Greenbelt Plan section 5.3 and Growth Plan policy 4.2.6.9) and are subject to provincial approval.

As the municipal comprehensive review will involve a process by which municipalities undertake the background research, public consultation, policy formulation and necessary approvals to bring upper- and single-tier official plans into full conformity with all of the policies of the Growth Plan, 2017, it may take some time to complete. In the meantime, OMAFRA's agricultural land base mapping, issued on February 9, 2018, applies to all GGH land use planning decisions.

Lower-tier municipalities are responsible for further implementing the results of the upper-tier municipal comprehensive review process by updating their official plans to conform with the approved and in effect upper-tier official plan that conforms with the Growth Plan, 2017. Thus, lower-tier municipalities will update their official plans to reflect the refined agricultural land base approved and in effect in upper-tier official plans following a municipal comprehensive review.

Many aspects of conformity cannot be addressed by a lower-tier municipality until the municipal comprehensive review has been completed by the upper-tier municipality (e.g. growth forecasts and refinements to the Natural Heritage System and the agricultural land base). However, if a lower-tier municipality updates its official plan to conform with an existing upper-tier plan where the upper-tier has not yet completed their municipal comprehensive review (i.e. ongoing work to conform with the Growth Plan, 2006), the lower-tier municipality will designate prime agricultural areas in accordance with the unrefined provincial agricultural land base mapping. They are not expected to include candidate areas in such a case, but will continue to treat candidate areas as they are currently designated in approved and in effect official plans. As the approval authority for lower-tier official plans, upper-tier municipalities must ensure lower-tier official plan mapping incorporates the prime agricultural areas identified in the province's agricultural land base map.

Development applications could be received in areas mapped as candidate areas for the agricultural land base before the upper-tier municipality has completed the municipal comprehensive review (which would ascertain whether these lands should be added to the prime agricultural area or rural lands within the agricultural land base). Again, until the municipal comprehensive review is completed, the existing in effect official plan designations and zoning apply to candidate areas.

During the municipal comprehensive review process, significant consultation between the upper- and lower-tier municipalities and the community will be conducted to update or amend the official plan. Since the Agricultural System may extend across municipal boundaries, consultation with adjoining municipalities should also occur (Section 3.2.1).

Municipalities are required to maintain and enhance the geographic continuity of the agricultural land base as well as the functional and economic connections to the agri-food network. Other plan policies (e.g. AIA requirements, integrated planning for growth management) must also be implemented. In addition, municipalities are encouraged to implement strategies to sustain and enhance the Agricultural System and the long-term economic prosperity and viability of the agri-food sector before, during and after municipal comprehensive review.

3.2 Official Plan Review

During municipal comprehensive review, upper- and single-tier municipalities in the GGH are required to bring their official plans into conformity with the Growth Plan, 2017 by comprehensively addressing multiple provincial interests such as agriculture, natural heritage, growth management and infrastructure.

The typical steps towards updating an official plan include:

  • Studies are undertaken
  • Advice is sought from stakeholders and advisory committees
  • Land use schedules and policies are drafted
  • The public is notified and consulted, and input considered
  • Council makes a decision whether to adopt the new plan
  • Where the decision to adopt the new plan is made, Council gives notice of adoption and sends the plan to the approval authority11 and
  • The approval authority makes a decision and gives notice of decision.

More detail is available in the Citizen's Guide: Official Plans (Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, 2010).


11 Provided the official plan or official plan amendment is subject to section 26 of the Planning Act and/or not exempt from approval.


Within the GGH, upper- and single-tier municipal conformity exercises require MMA approval, as per section 26 of the Planning Act. OMAFRA may comment on official plan mapping and agricultural policies in terms of consistency with the policies of the provincial plans and these implementation procedures. Where MMA is not the approval authority (i.e. for lower-tier official plans), MMA and OMAFRA can assist municipalities by providing input on agricultural studies and technical information.

3.2.1 Municipal Refinement of the Agricultural Land Base

While Section 2.1 summarizes OMAFRA's process for identifying the agricultural land base, this section focuses on upper- and single-tier municipal refinement and augmentation of the agricultural land base mapping during municipal comprehensive review and its incorporation into official plans.

The Growth Plan and the Greenbelt Plan require municipalities to designate prime agricultural areas, including specialty crop areas, in their official plans according to provincial Agricultural System mapping and these implementation procedures.

The Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan and the Niagara Escarpment Plan refer to the Agricultural System. In these two Plan areas, as elsewhere in the GGH, prime agricultural areas need to be mapped so that it is clear where prime agricultural area policies apply. Policies in the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan and the Niagara Escarpment Plan prescribe the uses that are permitted in different designations, including prime agricultural areas. These permitted uses may differ from permitted uses for prime agricultural areas in the Growth Plan and Greenbelt Plan.

OMAFRA and MMA will support municipalities as they undertake the refinement process. OMAFRA will share detailed data to help the process and will ask municipalities to share any prime agricultural area mapping approved prior to July 1, 2017 that is not already captured in the provincial agricultural land base map.

During municipal comprehensive review, municipalities need to analyze differences between their existing official plan schedules and OMAFRA's agricultural land base map and work with OMAFRA to ensure consistent identification, mapping and protection based on the Agricultural System mapping method, purpose, outcomes and the refinement circumstances described in these implementation procedures. In many municipalities, existing designated prime agricultural areas align well with the provincial agricultural land base map. In these cases, only minor changes may be needed to municipally designated prime agricultural areas, including the possible addition of candidate areas for the agricultural land base (see Section 3.2.1.2). In most cases, changes will be required to existing designated prime agricultural areas to address cross-boundary discrepancies with neighbouring municipalities and provide for continuity across municipalities. In some municipalities, existing designated prime agricultural areas may require more substantial changes to achieve consistency with Agricultural System mapping principles, purpose and outcomes. Recognition of rural lands that are part of the agricultural land base will also be important (Section 3.2.1.3).

Consultation during official plan reviews will be key to the success of the agricultural land base mapping process. To refine agricultural land base mapping, municipalities should consult with:

  • a broad range of stakeholders who understand how Agricultural Systems function (e.g. agricultural12 , environmental and local food interests)
  • Indigenous communities and organizations
  • lower-tier municipalities within the upper-tier municipality
  • adjacent municipalities to ensure that as much as possible, the agricultural land base is continuous and consistently identified across municipal boundaries and
  • OMAFRA and MMA.
Figure 5 illustrates how refinements are to occur, in keeping with the descriptions to follow.

12 This should include agricultural advisory committees (where they exist) and representatives from local agri-food organizations who understand how the Agricultural System functions and who understand the links across municipal boundaries.


The refinement process is intended to be collaborative between municipalities and the Province. Early engagement with OMAFRA is essential if municipalities propose differences between the provincial agricultural land base mapping and proposed prime agricultural areas. Each area of difference must be identified, analyzed and justified.

If municipalities wish to remove or add land to the agricultural land base mapping to implement the results of the municipal comprehensive review, such refinements must be accompanied by supporting documentation, including studies if completed, together with fine-scale mapping. All of these must be submitted to the Province for review and approval along with the proposed official plan or official plan amendment(s).


Figure 5 illustrates how refinements are to occur, in keeping with the descriptions to follow.

Figure 5: Agricultural Land Base Map Refinement (text version)

3.2.1.1 Prime Agricultural Areas

As noted, specialty crop areas identified in the agricultural land base map are not subject to municipal refinement.

Prime agricultural areas shown in OMAFRA's agricultural land base map are those areas designated in municipal official plans or identified by OMAFRA based on high LEAR scores. These areas are core elements of the agricultural land base and warrant a prime agricultural area designation subject to the refinement circumstances described below.

In general, OMAFRA's agricultural land base map is to be used to augment (i.e. add to) existing designated prime agricultural areas to achieve a continuous, productive land base for agriculture. The goals of consistent protection and continuity of the agricultural land base need to be achieved, recognizing that pockets of non-agricultural uses may be included in the broader agricultural land base.

During municipal comprehensive review, refinements to prime agricultural areas mapped in OMAFRA's agricultural land base map are to be based on consistency with the Agricultural System mapping method, purpose and outcomes, and may be approved in the following circumstances.

  • To extend prime agricultural areas to identifiable boundaries (beyond the identifiable boundaries used by the Province to create the agricultural land base map).13
    • Identifiable boundaries may include roads, railways, large water bodies and settlement area boundaries, but do not include the following: topographic features (e.g. cliffs), buildings, small creeks or drainage ditches or provincial plan boundaries (e.g. to Niagara Escarpment Plan or Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan boundaries).
  • To make minor technical adjustments (e.g. to account for distortion from map projections or discrepancies based on map scales).
  • To account for settlement area boundaries that were approved in upper- and single-tier official plans in effect as of July 1, 2017 and any additional refinements to settlement area boundaries once precise locations have been determined through the municipal comprehensive review process.
  • To recognize more precise local information, specifically:
    • Lands such as First Nation reserve lands and federally regulated portions of aerodromes.
    • Future updates to the provincial LEAR if significant changes are made to the official OMAFRA Canada Land Inventory mapping.
    • Existing upper- or single-tier municipal LEARs14 and accompanying mapping if they are consistent with and do not conflict with the Agricultural System mapping method, purpose and outcomes15. The provincial LEAR will take precedence where appropriate to achieve continuity across municipal and provincial plan boundaries and to achieve other Agricultural System purpose and outcomes.
    • Designated employment areas (see Section 3.2.1.9).
    • Contiguous areas greater than 250 ha of existing, permitted non-agricultural and non-residential uses16 that are unlikely to be rehabilitated to agriculture and are not characteristic of prime agricultural areas. Non-agricultural uses may include commercial, institutional, cemeteries, golf courses, industrial parks, mineral aggregate resources areas below the water table, built-up areas along highways, developed shoreline areas (as per Growth Plan policy 4.2.4.5), infrastructure (named in the Growth Plan Schedules 5 and 6) that has been developed, large impervious surfaces, and designated employment areas.
  • To recognize key natural heritage features in which agricultural uses are not on-going (as discussed in Section 3.2.1.4).
  • To add areas in order to create a continuous agricultural land base across municipal boundaries (i.e. edge matching of lands in agricultural production).
  • As a best practice, to add prime agricultural areas resulting from implemention of the excess lands framework and other situations where land is de-designated from settlement areas.

Municipal refinements to prime agricultural areas in the agricultural land base map will not be approved in the following circumstances:

  • Where refinements do not align with the mapping method, purpose and outcomes.
  • Where refinements would present significant discrepancies17 with provincial mapping or inconsistencies across municipal boundaries, unless the result is a higher degree of agricultural land protection than would have been achieved through consistency and where the refinement would not conflict with any other policy of the same plan.
  • Where refinements would result in a reduction in prime agricultural areas compared to previous official plans in the same jurisdiction, excluding land for settlement area expansions.
  • Where refinements would exchange higher quality agricultural lands for lower quality lands.
  • To exclude small pockets of land in non-agricultural uses (e.g. severed lots, small commercial or industrial uses).
  • To exclude the Natural Heritage System (which is required to be an overlay) or key natural heritage features in which agricultural uses are ongoing.
  • To reflect supporting information in agricultural studies where they were completed based on earlier provincial policies that do not adequately address current provincial policies.

13 For OMAFRA's agricultural land base map, OMAFRA extended prime agricultural areas to property lines. Prime agricultural area boundaries should not divide individual parcels. Individual parcels should be included or excluded as a unit to be clear where prime agricultural area policies apply. This helps to protect large, continuous areas and avoid scattered site specific exceptions for non-agricultural uses.

14 Prepared before the date these implementation procedures came into effect.

15 Municipal LEARs that automatically assign a score of zero to areas with natural cover, or significantly reduce overall scores due to proximity to settlement areas, are examples of LEAR approaches that conflict with the Agricultural System mapping method, purpose and outcomes. Where such inconsistencies occur, municipal LEARs may not be used to justify refinements. In contrast, municipal LEARs that use accurate local data on farm drainage and infrastructure, for example, and use agricultural infrastructure as a LEAR factor, would be different from the provincial LEAR but not in conflict with it. Such municipal LEARs could inform refinements.

16 As per PPS policy 2.3.6.1 b), removal of prime agricultural areas for residential uses is not permitted.

17 Refinements that conflict with Agricultural System purpose and outcomes and agricultural land base mapping principles and methods would be considered a significant discrepancy.


3.2.1.2 Adding Candidate Areas to Prime Agricultural Areas

Unlike the more prescriptive approach for refinements to the prime agricultural areas in OMAFRA's agricultural land base map, the process for considering candidate areas for the agricultural land base is more flexible. Municipalities may wish to undertake further analysis and consultation on candidate areas before or during municipal comprehensive review to classify these lands. OMAFRA will provide advice and data to aid in municipal decision-making and municipalities will document the rationale for including or not including these areas within the agricultural land base during municipal comprehensive review.

In the provincial agricultural land base map, areas identified as candidate areas for the agricultural land base are recommended to be added to the designated prime agricultural area if they meet the definition of prime agricultural areas ("…areas of prime agricultural lands and associated Class 4 through 7 lands, and additional areas where there is a local concentration of farms that exhibit characteristics of ongoing agriculture") even if these lands did not receive a high LEAR score.

3.2.1.3 Adding Candidate Areas to Rural Lands Within the Agricultural Land Base

By definition, the agricultural land base includes rural lands. The rural lands policies in the PPS, Growth Plan and Greenbelt Plan apply and allow for a wider range of uses than in prime agricultural areas. This includes cemeteries, fairgrounds, campgrounds and recreation sites. Rural lands provide opportunities to locate rural, non-agricultural uses where appropriate, outside of prime agricultural areas.


Rural lands are defined in the PPS as lands which are located outside of settlement areas and which are outside of prime agricultural areas.

For the purpose of the Agricultural System, rural lands within the agricultural land base are rural lands that, together with prime agricultural areas, help to create a continuous, productive land base for agriculture. Rural lands may also link prime agricultural areas or support elements of the agri-food network.


As discussed, some candidate areas for the agricultural land base may qualify as prime agricultural areas. Other areas do not meet the prime agricultural area definition but help to create a continuous, productive land base for agriculture as per the Agricultural System definition. This also accords with Growth Plan policy 4.2.6.4 which requires the geographic continuity of the agricultural land base and the functional and economic connections to the agri-food network to be maintained and enhanced. Rural lands within the agricultural land base may serve these functions, linking prime agricultural areas and/or supporting elements of the agri-food network. Identification of rural lands within the agricultural land base is left to municipal discretion, as long as the Agricultural System purpose and outcomes are met.

As a best practice, official plan policy for rural lands would specify that all areas in agricultural production (e.g. as shown in AAFC's crop inventory maps) and areas that support elements of the agri-food network (as per Agricultural System Portal mapping) would be defined as being part of the Agricultural System.

The Niagara Escarpment Plan Area comprises seven land use designations with individual policies and objectives governing land use. One such designation is the Escarpment Rural Area. The Escarpment Rural Area is not to be confused with the more general rural lands term used throughout this document. The meaning and context of rural lands within the PPS, Greenbelt Plan and Growth Plan is generally lands which are located outside of settlement areas and prime agricultural areas. In contrast, the Escarpment Rural Areas designation may contain prime agricultural areas.


Policy implications for rural lands in the agricultural land base:

  • Municipalities are required to maintain and enhance the geographic continuity of the agricultural land base (that may include some rural lands) and functional and economic connections to the agri-food network (Growth Plan policy 4.2.6.4).
  • Municipalities are encouraged to plan for the success of the agri-food sector, in part by recognizing and supporting the agri-food network (Growth Plan policy 4.2.6.7), some of which may be located on rural lands.
  • Impacts to the Agricultural System from some non-agricultural uses need to be avoided, or if avoidance is not possible, minimized and mitigated. This may include rural lands within the agricultural land base.

(See policy references in Appendix 1)


3.2.1.4 Agricultural Land Base Refinements Related to Natural Heritage Features and Areas

When developing land use planning policies for natural heritage within prime agricultural areas, municipalities need to ensure that agricultural uses and activities are permitted in appropriate locations (Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, 2010). It is important to differentiate (i.e. use different symbology) systems from features (e.g. Natural Heritage System, key natural heritage features, and key hydrologic features) because provincial policies differ for each.

In the Growth Plan and Greenbelt Plan areas, policies require the Natural Heritage System to be mapped as an overlay outside of settlement areas. Within the Natural Heritage System, the full range of existing and new agricultural uses, agriculture-related uses, on-farm diversified uses and normal farm practices are permitted subject to the policies of the plans, with some minimum requirements if new buildings and structures are to be located near natural heritage and water resource features (Greenbelt policy 3.2.2.1, Growth Plan policy 4.2.2.3.b).

In key natural heritage features within the Natural Heritage System and key hydrologic features, additional restrictions apply. Development and site alteration are generally not permitted. Existing agricultural uses may continue and expansions or alterations to existing buildings and structures for agricultural uses, agriculture-related uses, or on-farm diversified uses may be permitted subject to policy tests outlined in Greenbelt Plan policy 4.5.5. and Growth Plan policy 4.2.3.1.

For clarity, new agricultural uses that would involve development or site alteration would not be permitted in key natural heritage features within the Natural Heritage System and key hydrologic features (Greenbelt Plan policy 3.2.5 and Growth Plan policies 4.2.3 and 4.2.4). Activities not involving approval under the Planning Act may, however, be permitted (e.g. agro-forestry and maple syrup production).

Where natural heritage features and key hydrologic features are located outside of the Natural Heritage System, development or site alteration is generally not permitted. However, agricultural uses may continue, in accordance with the PPS.

Mapping Options to Address the Overlap Between Prime Agricultural Areas and Key Natural Heritage Features within the Natural Heritage System and Within Key Hydrologic Features

Key natural heritage features within the Natural Heritage System and key hydrologic features often overlap with prime agricultural areas. For clarity and consistency across the GGH, it is recommended that as a best practice, one of four options be used by municipalities for official plan mapping where prime agricultural areas overlap with key natural heritage features and key hydrologic features. In all four options, the Natural Heritage System would be an overlay. As well, permissions for new agricultural uses, agriculture-related uses and on-farm diversified uses where features and prime agricultural areas overlap would be restricted by protective policies (i.e. no development or site alteration).

  1. Overlay: Prime agricultural areas, key natural heritage features and key hydrologic features would be shown on the same land use schedule, with overlay symbology (e.g. hatching) used for key natural heritage features and key hydrologic features, such that prime agricultural areas are visible beneath the overlays. The policies imposed by an overlay would be in addition to, and not in lieu of, the permissions or restrictions associated with the underlying designation.
  2. Dual designation: Two different designations for the same geographic area would be shown on two separate land use schedules. Prime agricultural areas could be shown on one land use schedule (potentially on the main land use schedule), and key natural heritage features and key hydrologic features mapped on another land use schedule.
  3. Hybrid designation: A hybrid designation (e.g. 'Natural Features in Prime Agricultural Areas') would only be used in areas of overlap between prime agricultural areas and key natural heritage features and key hydrologic features. Permitted uses in the hybrid designation would be distinct and clearly identified, without requiring two sets of policies to be considered.
  4. Single designation: Separate, distinct key natural heritage feature and key hydrologic feature designations would be used. Policies could explain how prime agricultural areas within features are to be addressed.

If local natural heritage systems are identified outside of the provincial Natural Heritage System, they could likewise be shown as an overlay in official plan maps, or other approaches as appropriate, consistent with the Natural Heritage Reference Manual (Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, 2010). Where natural heritage features and areas and key hydrologic features outside the Natural Heritage System overlap with prime agricultural areas, it would also be useful to designate them in a way that shows where they overlap.

3.2.1.5 Areas Within the Water Resource System

Unlike the provincially led process for identifying the Agricultural and Natural Heritage Systems, under the provincial plans, the GGH land use plans and the PPS require municipalities to identify and incorporate water resource systems in official plans and apply appropriate designations and policies to provide for the long-term protection, restoration or improvement of the water resource systems including key hydrologic features18, key hydrologic areas and their functions within and between these features and areas. Like Natural Heritage Systems and key natural heritage features, it is recommended that key hydrologic features and areas be designated in a manner that ensures their protection while allowing agricultural uses to continue. The water resource system will be informed by watershed planning and will build upon available information and mapping such as that derived from source protection planning under the Clean Water Act and through consistency with PPS 2014 policies that speak to water resources.

The agri-food sector relies on water for such uses as irrigation and value-added processing. Agriculture and the agri-food sector depend on and influence water quality and quantity. Agricultural and rural lands provide important vegetative cover that helps maintain our water resource system, as well as playing a role in groundwater recharge and climate change mitigation and adaptation. Farmers and the agri-food sector have an important role in managing and conserving water and protecting the features, areas and functions within the water resource system.


18 Section 3.2.5 of the Greenbelt Plan contains special provisions pertaining to permitted uses in the Niagara Peninsula Tender Fruit and Grape Area in proximity to permanent and intermittent streams.


3.2.1.6 Areas Within the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan Area

As discussed in Section 1.5.2, the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan recognizes the GGH Agricultural System and acknowledges that prime agricultural areas may be found in Natural Core Areas, Natural Linkage Areas and Countryside Area designations. The Plan states that it is important to identify prime agricultural areas in the plan area. This is needed to implement prime agricultural area policies in the plan.

The recommended approach for municipal official plans is to show Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan designations on one official plan land use schedule and prime agricultural areas on another schedule following municipal refinement.

Where the agricultural land base is mapped by the Province in the area of the Rouge National Urban Park, to the extent that other management plans take precedent, planning authorities are encouraged to consider the long-term protection and promotion of agricultural uses and prime agricultural areas.

3.2.1.7 Areas Within the Niagara Escarpment Plan Area

The agricultural land base extends across the land area covered by all four provincial plans, but only includes the portion of the Niagara Escarpment Plan that is located within the GGH. Section 1.5.3 describes how the Niagara Escarpment Plan addresses the Agricultural System.

As a whole, Escarpment Natural Areas do not qualify as prime agricultural areas due to their large area, extensive natural cover and topography. While pockets of agriculture continue on those lands, new agriculture-related and on-farm diversified uses are generally not permitted in Escarpment Natural Areas. As noted in Section 2.1.3, Escarpment Natural Areas have been removed from the agricultural land base map.

Prime agricultural areas are, however, found in other Niagara Escarpment Plan designations, most commonly in Escarpment Rural Areas. The Niagara Escarpment Plan contains agriculture-supportive policies for these areas.

To implement its policies and the development control permit system, the Niagara Escarpment Commission needs to know where prime agricultural area policies apply. Municipal official plan prime agricultural area mapping, consistent with the Province's agricultural land base mapping and these implementation procedures, is required that shows that the agricultural land base extends into and beyond the Niagara Escarpment Plan Area across the GGH.

3.2.1.8 Existing and Future Site Specific Designations

As noted, municipalities may refine the agricultural land base map where there are large areas (i.e. 250 hectares or larger) of existing, permitted non-agricultural land uses that are unlikely to be rehabilitated to agriculture, or where provincial and municipal planning jurisdiction is restricted. These areas may be shown in a different designation.

Other existing municipally designated non-agricultural uses within the prime agricultural area (e.g. institutional, recreational or commercial, but not designations such as rural lands or open space) may keep their non-agricultural designations, with official plan policies that recognize that the non-agricultural uses are part of the prime agricultural area. Should the non-agricultural uses be proposed to change or be expanded, prime agricultural area policies would apply.

Alternatively (and preferably), existing non-agricultural uses within the prime agricultural area would be designated prime agricultural area, with site specific policies in the official plan indicating that the non-agricultural use is allowed. Since PPS policy 2.3.5 only allows removal of land from prime agricultural areas for expansions of settlement areas, this is the designation approach to be used in future planning decisions. Where a limited non-agricultural use has been justified in a prime agricultural area as a site specific exception (e.g. in accordance with PPS policy 2.3.6), that land is to remain part of the prime agricultural area. This is explained in OMAFRA's Guidelines on Permitted Uses in Ontario's Prime Agricultural Areas.

The approval process for most non-agricultural uses requires the rigorous assessment of need, evaluation of alternative locations and mitigation of impacts on agricultural operations and lands (PPS policy 2.3.6). The provincial plans build on the PPS. Non-agricultural uses are not permitted in prime agricultural areas in the Greenbelt Plan, except for a defined list of uses (e.g. infrastructure and existing uses) subject to mitigation of impacts on the Agricultural System. Like the PPS, the Growth Plan does not permit non-agricultural uses except under limited conditions and requires mitigation of impacts on agricultural operations and lands. The Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan and the Niagara Escarpment Plan are also designed to protect environmental features and agriculture from non-agricultural uses.

New site-specific removals of land from prime agricultural areas are not anticipated after the agricultural land base has been refined, with the exception of settlement area boundary expansions, subject to an AIA and other studies.

3.2.1.9 Employment Areas

Designated employment areas, whether urban or rural, often accommodate agri-food businesses that are part of the agri-food network and Agricultural System. Given the Growth Plan requires employment areas to be designated, employment areas may be removed from the prime agricultural area.

As a best practice, existing approved employment areas in prime agricultural areas that are not yet developed could be addressed as discussed under Existing and Future Site Specific Designations (Section 3.2.1.8). When they are developed, impacts to the Agricultural System should be assessed and avoided, or if avoidance is not possible, minimized and mitigated. Where mitigation is required, measures should be incorporated within the area being developed, as appropriate (Growth Plan policy 4.2.6.3; Greenbelt Plan, section 3.1.3.5).

The Growth Plan (policy 2.2.9.5) continues to permit existing employment areas outside of settlement areas on rural lands that were designated in an official plan that was approved and in effect as of June 16, 2006. While the Growth Plan generally directs growth to settlement areas, expansions to these employment areas on rural lands may only be permitted subject to conditions.

3.2.2 Official Plan Designations

3.2.2.1 Nomenclature

To achieve consistency across municipalities within the GGH, it is strongly recommended that common nomenclature be used for official plan designations.


Recommended Agricultural and Rural Nomenclature Within the Agricultural Land Base:

  • specialty crop areas
  • prime agricultural areas and
  • rural lands

3.2.2.2 Designation Scenarios

There are different scenarios for implementing the agricultural land base through official plans, depending on the make-up of the municipality.

  1. In municipalities where nearly all the area outside of settlement areas is prime agricultural area (based on the PPS's broad definition and provincial mapping), the entire area outside of settlement areas could be designated prime agricultural area. Municipalities that currently take this approach could continue to do so (e.g. Brant County and Haldimand County). In this case, all land outside of settlement areas would be within the agricultural land base.
  2. In other municipalities, the majority of land outside of settlement areas may help to create a continuous, productive land base for agriculture, some of which is identified as prime agricultural area and some of which are rural lands, based on their respective definitions and provincial mapping. The official plan for these areas could include both prime agricultural area and rural lands designations. As a best practice, an official plan policy would explain that rural lands are part of the agricultural land base.
  3. Still other municipalities may have a more mixed landscape comprised of prime agricultural areas and rural lands, only some of which help to create a continuous, productive land base for agriculture (e.g. Peterborough County, City of Kawartha Lakes and Simcoe County). These municipalities could include both prime agricultural area and rural lands designations in their official plans. As a best practice, an official plan policy would explain that rural lands in agriculture or supporting elements of the agri-food network are part of the agricultural land base.

A best practice would be for municipalities to refer to rural lands within the agricultural land base in official plan policy.

3.2.3 Official Plan Policies

To conform with the Agricultural System policies of the GGH plans, new Agricultural System official plan policies will be developed by municipalities during their municipal comprehensive review.

Official plan policies are needed to address the following, in conformity with the applicable provincial land use plans and being consistent with the PPS:

  • Protection of prime agricultural areas, including specialty crop areas, for long-term use in agriculture. Firm prime agricultural area boundaries provide certainty for farmers and the future of farmland in a region where development pressures are intense and expected to rise.
  • The agricultural land base, including the need to maintain and improve its continuity and acknowledge the important role of rural lands in the Agricultural System. This is partially achieved by identifying the agricultural land base, but also through policies on avoidance of non-agricultural uses in prime agricultural areas. By avoiding, or minimizing and mitigating impacts to prime agricultural areas in the agricultural land base, planning authorities can maintain and improve the continuity of the agricultural land base.
  • Permitted uses in prime agricultural areas and rural lands, consistent with the PPS and OMAFRA's Guidelines on Permitted Uses in Ontario's Prime Agricultural Areas.
  • Identifying when AIAs are required and what needs to be considered, consistent with provincial guidance on AIAs.
  • Where settlement area expansions are being considered as part of a municipal comprehensive review, priority for expansion should be given to land outside of prime agricultural areas19. Settlement area expansions are prohibited in specialty crop areas.
  • Strengthening the functional and economic connections between elements of the Agricultural System in the GGH and the broader agricultural system of southern Ontario.
  • The commitment to implement strategies to sustain and enhance the Agricultural System and the long-term prosperity and viability of the agri-food sector.
  • The Natural Heritage System mapping using the overlay approach over the agricultural land base.
  • Mapping and designations of key natural heritage features in the Natural Heritage System and key natural heritage features within and beyond the Natural Heritage System to provide for the long-term protection of features and functions.
  • The water resource systems mapping and designations to provide for the long-term protection of key hydrologic features and key hydrologic areas and their functions.
  • The land use schedule in the official plan that designates prime agricultural areas, and policy describing rural lands within the agricultural land base, aligned with these implementation procedures.
  • A reference to an appendix in the official plan, mapping in OMAFRA's Agricultural System Portal or another approved source showing assets listed in section 2.2.1, which identifies (by listing and/or mapping) the critical assets, infrastructure and services in the agri-food network. Other maps and lists of the agri-food network may also be useful for economic development purposes, either in the official plan or an accompanying economic development strategy.
  • In addition to policies pertaining to the Agricultural System, policies on lot creation, minimum distance separation and permitted uses are needed.
  • Policies that recognize that limited existing, non-agricultural uses remain within the prime agricultural area. The policies should clarify that the limited non-agricultural uses are within the prime agricultural area, and that agricultural uses may continue. Conversion or expansion of the use beyond the current designated boundary is subject to the policies of PPS section 2.3.6 with possible AIA requirements as per the provincial plans, possible minimum distance separation requirements, agriculture-related and on-farm diversified uses are permitted, and lot creation is restricted as per the prime agricultural area policies of the PPS and provincial plans.

As a best practice, municipal official plan policy could state that, where agricultural production is occurring on rural lands, these lands will be considered to be part of the Agricultural System.


19 Prior to considering settlement area expansions, refinements to the agricultural land base should be completed and site options evaluated via an AIA, amongst other requirements.


3.2.4 Final Agricultural Land Base Map

After municipal refinements have been made and included in adopted official plan land use schedules, the Province will prepare a final agricultural land base map for the GGH. This map will incorporate the detailed, approved agricultural land base mapping adopted in municipal official plans across the GGH. Future refinements may be made to this map to address settlement area expansions through future municipal comprehensive reviews for growth beyond 2041.

3.3 Toolbox for Implementing the Agricultural System

In addition to protecting the agricultural land base, a range of tools may be used to help the agri-food sector prosper. While many municipalities are already actively supporting the agri-food sector, they should look for opportunities to make continuous improvements.

Municipalities can support a thriving agri-food sector by:

  • Considering impacts on the Agricultural System when municipal decisions are made on investments, growth and infrastructure, and new programs, policies, by-laws and services.
  • Undertaking economic development and planning to help strengthen and grow the sector.
3.3.1 Considering Agri-Food Impacts when Municipal Decisions are Made

The Growth Plan and the Greenbelt Plan require municipalities to consider opportunities to enhance the Agricultural System when undertaking growth management planning including goods movement and transportation planning. The Growth Plan requires infrastructure to be well planned as it is essential to the viability of communities and critical to economic competitiveness, quality of life, and the delivery of public services.

Before decisions are made on future growth areas, road and bridge work, port development, placement of signage, trails, electricity transmission and distribution, communications/telecommunications, transit, oil and gas pipelines, pipelines etc., the impact on the Agricultural System must be considered. Road and bridge designs are required to factor in use by area farmers, ensuring goods can be moved and large, slow-moving farm vehicles can move safely and efficiently. Municipal design guidelines for roads, bridges and traffic circles should address the needs of the agri-food sector, amongst other things.

Municipalities should consider identifying infrastructure improvements needed to support the agri-food sector. They could lead or support initiatives to increase access to natural gas, broadband and multi-modal transportation (e.g. rail or deep water port). Investments into rural Ontario infrastructure can boost agri-food production, processing and distribution, while expanding the commercial and industrial tax base and creating jobs.

Investments in municipal programs should also consider the agri-food sector (e.g. tourism promotion, marketing, community improvement plans).

In all instances, consultation with agricultural advisory committees and/or other local agri-food stakeholders should inform decisions. Regional agri-food strategies or Business Retention and Expansion studies may identify infrastructure priorities. OMAFRA's Agricultural System mapping portal can help identify the needs of the agri-food sector. When infrastructure projects or settlement area expansions are proposed, this mapping can be used to identify crop production areas, livestock operations and elements of the agri-food network where adverse impacts should be avoided where possible, and where avoidance is not possible, this mapping can be used to help minimize and mitigate adverse impacts. Section 3.3.2 addresses economic development and planning tools that can be used to support the agri-food sector.

3.3.2 Agriculture Economic Development

The Greenbelt Plan and Growth Plan encourage municipalities to implement regional agri-food strategies and other approaches to sustain and enhance the Agricultural System and the long-term prosperity and viability of the sector, including the maintenance and improvement of improving the agri-food network.

The process for agriculture economic development has three steps that support communities in building an economic strategy that responds to the unique needs of their local agri-food sector (Figure 6). Since communities have different levels of capacity, they can enter at different stages. Some communities may need to focus on laying the foundation for future economic development efforts. Others may be ready to focus on implementation. In all instances, activities should help to increase appreciation and understanding of the Agricultural System.


OMAFRA's Agriculture Economic Development: A Resource Guide for Communities will help economic development and land use planning practitioners, municipal councils and community leaders foster the long-term economic prosperity and viability of the agri-food sector when implementing the Agricultural System.

The examples provided in the resource guide are adaptable to communities' specific capacities and goals. The guide's three stages of agriculture economic development are summarized below.


Figure 6 - illustration showing the three stages of agriculture economic development: Stage 1 Plant, Stage 2 Grow and Stage 3 Harvest

Figure 6: Three Stages of Agriculture Economic Development

Stage 1: PLANT - Prepare your community for agriculture economic development

The first step is to plant the seed:

  • develop an understanding of community readiness
  • build a baseline understanding of local agriculture
  • identify and share opportunities for agriculture economic development
  • organize an advisory committee or leadership team and
  • provide direction to identified collaborators (roles and responsibilities).

Stage 2: GROW - Getting to know your agriculture system

The next step is to build an inventory of what is going on in the Agricultural System in the community. From this baseline data, trends and strengths can be identified. Conversations are held about the Agricultural System with local collaborators. Opportunities are identified with the evidence needed to garner support for new initiatives:

  • develop an inventory of activities taking place across the Agricultural System
  • engage with the agricultural community (e.g. surveys, focus groups) and
  • conduct data analysis, environmental scans and opportunity identification.

Stage 3: HARVEST - Harvest the good ideas and take action!

After identifying community priorities, an action plan can be developed to achieve the community's goals, considering such activities as:

  • stakeholder engagement
  • communications and marketing
  • business development
  • workforce and leadership development
  • investment attraction
  • agriculture infrastructure and land use planning and
  • research and innovation.

Each activity should be reviewed in the context of a community's readiness and capacity. Figure 7 from Agriculture Economic Development: A Resource Guide for Communities identifies programs, tools and resources to help guide communities with different capacities. Many initiatives can be scaled to capacity and delivered with support from OMAFRA's Regional Agricultural and Rural Economic Development Advisors.

Capacity is based on the availability of dedicated staff, staff awareness of agricultural issues, support from the agricultural community and budget for agriculture economic development.


Low capacity communities may have no dedicated staff with little to no volunteer support. Current staff may have little familiarity with the agri-food sector, and little to no budget is available to support agriculture economic development activities.


Medium capacity communities may have half a full time equivalent staff member and/or some volunteer support. They may have moderate experience and expertise in the agri-food sector, and a moderate budget for carrying out some activities.


High capacity communities may have one or more full time equivalent staff members and active volunteers to support economic development activities. Staff may have a wealth of expertise and experience in the agri-food sector. Significant budget is available to support agriculture economic development.


Capacity rankings are not absolute and can be adapted - the capacity required for any given activity depends on the scale and scope of a community's needs. Collaborating with neighbouring communities, sponsoring existing initiatives, and scoping an initiative's activities may help to build capacity. Anyone can be a community champion; volunteers will join in when they see momentum building, even when successes are small.

When implementing the Agricultural System, municipalities should aim to increase their community's capacity to deliver on agriculture economic development. Agriculture Economic Development: A Resource Guide for Communities provides guidance on how to do this.

Community-Based Programs to Support Agriculture Economic Development
Agriculture Sector Support Activities Low Capacity Medium Capacity High Capacity
Investment Attraction
 
 
yes
Export and Trade Development Services
 
 
yes
Agriculture/Local Food BR+E
 
  
yes
Regional Infrastructure (Food Processing Facilities, Grain Terminals etc)
 
 
yes
Agriculture Community Improvement Plan
 
 
yes
Agriculture System Inventory - Value Chain Gap Analysis
 
yes
yes
Implement Local Food Procurement Policies
 
yes
yes
Agriculture Strategic Action Plan
 
yes
yes
Implement/Update Agriculture Impact Study
 
yes
yes
Develop & Promote Agri-Tourism and Local Food Initiatives
 
yes
yes
Promote Local Agri-Business Innovations
yes
yes
yes
Regional Collaborations
yes
yes
yes
Food Charter
yes
yes
yes
Familiarizatin/VIP Ag Tours
yes
yes
yes
Agricultural Advisory Committee
yes
yes
yes
Stakeholder Engagement
yes
yes
yes
Agriculture Innovation and R&D
yes
yes
yes
Agri-Business Workshops: New Crop Opportunities, Value-Added Food etc.
yes
yes
yes
Community Leadership & Volunteer Development
yes
yes
yes
Agriculture Sector Community Profile
yes
yes
yes

3.3.2.1 Community Examples

Many community-based strategies are already being implemented that help to sustain and enhance the Agricultural System.

  • Agri-food sector specific strategic plans have been completed including Food Sector Specific Strategic Plans: Durham Region Agriculture Strategy 2013-2018, Golden Horseshoe Food and Farming Action Plan 2012 - 2021, Halton Region - Rural Agriculture Strategy and the Kawartha Lakes Agricultural Action Plan.
  • GGH municipalities with dedicated agricultural-focused economic development staff include Durham Region, Halton Region, City of Kawartha Lakes, Region of Niagara and County of Northumberland.
  • Within the GGH, upper- and single-tier municipalities with agricultural advisory committees include Durham, Haldimand, Halton, Hamilton, Kawartha Lakes, Niagara, Northumberland, Peel, Peterborough, and York.
  • Headwaters Horse Country, Ontario's Centre of Equine Excellence is an example of municipalities working together to promote an agricultural cluster. It involves a collaboration between Dufferin County, Caledon, Erin and King Township to distinguish the Headwaters region as Ontario's premier equine cluster.
  • In the Peterborough area, the Chamber of Commerce and the Peterborough County Cattlemen's Association established Kawartha Choice (now Kawartha Choice Farm Fresh) to promote buying local beef. This program grew to include a neighbouring municipality (City of Kawartha Lakes) and to create a successful branded buy-local campaign for the region.
  • The Waterloo Region Food Charter promotes a healthy and sustainable food system where all residents have access to affordable, safe and nutritious food, and culturally acceptable food that has been produced in an environmentally sustainable way, and that supports its rural communities. This blends economic development with engaging local people in the food system.
  • The City of Kawartha Lakes Food Charter identifies and communicates the community's vision for the local food system. It was inspired by recommendations from the Regional Local Food Business Retention and Expansion project in Eastern Ontario. The Kawartha Lakes Food Coalition is implementing several activities related to food security, growth and sustainability of the production and processing sector, while achieving regulatory compliance.
  • Hamilton City Council has endorsed a ten year food strategy that sets direction for resource allocation and decisions for how the City and community will address food issues.
  • Durham Region sheep and beef producers expressed a desire for a federal abattoir in the region. The Region's economic development department worked with the Durham Region Cattlemen's Association to secure funding to conduct both a feasibility study and later a business plan for a federal meat plant in the region. To date, a federal meat plant has not been developed but sheep producers in the region have enlisted an abattoir in York Region to meet the needs of a growing customer base.
  • Georgian College, together with Simcoe County Economic Development, OMAFRA and the Agriculture Management Institute, delivered food entrepreneurship training to more than 1000 individuals through five seminars and a two-day conference in 2016. Many in attendance were farmers interested in adding value to the products they produced on the farm.

As well as these examples, Section 2.2.1 highlights initiatives being implemented in communities to strengthen and support the agri-food sector. Additionally, Agriculture Economic Development: A Resource Guide for Communities provides extensive case studies of a broad spectrum of initiatives that are being implemented to foster a prosperous agri-food sector.

3.4 Performance Monitoring

The Province, in consultation with municipalities, other public bodies, stakeholders and First Nations and Métis communities, will monitor implementation of provincial plan policies and these implementation procedures. OMAFRA and MMA's involvement in the refinement process will help to ensure consistent interpretation of these implementation procedures. The Province is also considering monitoring on the following:

  • The rationale for changes to the agricultural land base map based on OMAFRA's refinement considerations.
  • The total number and nature of refinements.
  • The total area designated as prime agricultural area.
  • Agricultural System policies adopted in official plans.
  • Progress to maintain and enhance the agri-food network.
  • Implementation of agriculture economic development and planning strategies to support and enhance the Agricultural System.
  • Collaboration with adjoining municipalities to undertake land use planning and economic development to support the Agricultural System.

The Province will undertake GGH-wide monitoring based on municipal reporting and other methods. It will assess use of the Agricultural System Portal and overall effectiveness of Agricultural System policies.

As the effectiveness of Agricultural System policies are evaluated over time, the Province may consider recommending implementation beyond the GGH. In the meantime, communities outside of the GGH can apply these implementation procedures as best practices.


Appendices

Appendix 1: Summary of Key References and Policies in the Four Plans

Please note that this list is provided for convenience only and is not intended to be comprehensive. The actual plans should be referred to for the complete references and policies.

Topic Area Growth Plan Greenbelt Plan Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan Niagara Escarpment Plan
Agricultural System

1.2.1 Guiding Principles

2.1 Context

2.2.8 Settlement Area Boundary Expansions
2.2.8.3 h)

3.2. Infrastructure Corridors
3.2.5.1 c)

4.1 Context

4.2.6 Agricultural System

4.2.8 Mineral Aggregate Resources
4.2.8.3

5.2.2 Supplementary Direction
5.2.2.2 a)

1.2.2 Protected Countryside Goals
1.2.2.1 f)

3.1 Agricultural System

3.4.2 General Settlement Area Policies
3.4.2.4

5.3 Municipal implementation of Protected Countryside Policies

Plan Introduction- The Vision for the Oak Ridges Moraine Plan Introduction- Landscape Approach
Agri-food Network

2.2.8 Settlement Area Boundary Expansions
2.2.8.3 j)

4.1 Context

4.2 Agricultural System
4.2.6.4
4.2.6.7

1.2.2 Protected Countryside Goals
1.2.2.1 b)
1.2.2.1 e)

3.1. Agricultural System
3.1.1
3.1.2.6
3.1.3. 6
3.1.4.8
3.1.5
3.1.6

5.3 Municipal implementation of Protected Countryside Policies

Plan Introduction- The Vision for the Oak Ridges Moraine Plan Introduction - Landscape Approach
Permitted Uses (agricultural, agriculture-related, on-farm diversified uses)

4.2.2 Natural Heritage System
4.2.2.3 b)

4.2.3 Key Hydrologic Features, Key Hydrologic Areas and Key Natural Heritage Features 4.2.3.1 f)

4.2.4 Lands Adjacent to Key Hydrologic Features and Key Natural Heritage Features
4.2.4.4 b)

4.2.6 Agricultural System
4.2.6.5

1.2.2 Protected Countryside Goals
1.2.2.1 d)

3.1.2 Specialty Crop Area Policies
3.1.2.1

3.1.3 Prime Agricultural Area Policies
3.1.3.1

3.1.4 Rural Lands Policy
3.1.4.1
3.1.4.2

3.2.2 Natural Heritage System Policies
3.2.2.1
3.2.2.2

11 Natural Core Areas
11.(3)

12 Natural Linkage Areas
12. (3)

13 Country Side Areas
13(3)

Escarpment Natural Area - Permitted Uses - 1.3.3

Escarpment Protection Area-Permitted Uses - 1.4.3

Escarpment Rural Area- Permitted Uses-1.5.3

Escarpment Recreation Area -Permitted Uses - 1.8.3

Mineral Resource Extraction Area -Permitted Uses-1.9.3

2.8 Agriculture

Agricultural Impact Assessment and land use compatibility

2.2.8 Settlement Area Boundary Expansions
2.2.8.3 h)
2.2.8.3 j)

3.2.5 Infrastructure Corridors
3.2.5.1 c)

4.2.8 Mineral Aggregate Resources
4.2.8.3

Rehabilitation 4.2.8.5 a)
4.2.8.5 b)

3.1 Agricultural System
3.1.2.2
3.1.2.5
3.1.3.3
3.1.3.5
3.1.4.4
3.1.4.7
3.1.5.2

3.4.3 Town/Village Policies
3.4.3.2

4.1.1 General Non-Agricultural Use Policies
4.1.1.3

4.2.1 General Infrastructure Policies
4.2.1.2 g)

4.3.2 Non-Renewable Resource Policies
4.3.2.4
4.3.2.7

4.5 Existing Uses
4.5.5

34 Compatible Uses

3 Mineral aggregate operations and wayside pits
35(1)(b)(i)
35(1.1)
35(7)

38 Major recreational uses
38(5)

41 Infrastructure
41(2.1)

Mineral Aggregate Resources
2.9.3 f)
2.9.11

Infrastructure
2.12.6

Natural Heritage System
(as it relates to agriculture)

4.2.2 Natural Heritage System
4.2.2.3 b)

4.2.3 Key Hydrologic Features, Key Hydrologic Areas and Key Natural Heritage Features
4.2.3.1 f)

4.2.4 Lands Adjacent to Key Hydrologic Features and Key Natural Heritage Features
4.2.4.4 b)

Natural Heritage System Policies
3.2.2.1
3.2.2.2

3.2.5 Key Natural Heritage Features and Key Hydrologic Features Policies
3.2.5.7
3.2.5.8

22 Key Natural Heritage Features
22(2)(6)
22(5)

26 Key Hydrologic Features
26 (2)(5)
26(4.2)

29 Areas of High Aquifer Vulnerability
29(1.1)

 

 


Appendix 2: OMAFRA's Land Evaluation and Area Review (LEAR) for the Greater Golden Horseshoe

LEAR is a commonly used tool in Ontario developed by OMAFRA to quantitatively assess the relative importance of lands for agriculture based on the inherent characteristics of the land and other factors affecting agricultural potential. LEARs are a starting point to identify prime agricultural areas. LEARs may be supplemented with additional analysis and field verification prior to designating prime agricultural areas.

Within the GGH, four of the 21 upper- and single-tier municipalities have undertaken LEARs within the past 12 years: City of Hamilton, Region of Halton, Region of Peel and Region of York (see Figure). There are many commonalities between these LEAR studies, in part because they follow OMAFRA's recommended assessment procedure. However, municipal LEARs vary as they often consider unique local circumstances and may interpret data slightly differently, resulting in designation differences. Even if there are local differences, official plan designations go through an approvals process that provides for consistency with provincial policy.

OMAFRA surveyed LEAR practitioners from across Ontario to learn from their experiences. The ministry then developed a rigorous LEAR process to use across the entire GGH using consistent factors, datasets, and weightings. This was used to identify areas of agricultural potential using consistent criteria across the GGH.

While OMAFRA's LEAR used consistent criteria across the GGH, municipal LEARs may employ different data and field verification methods. Municipal LEARs may help to inform appropriate refinements to the agricultural land base mapping (Section 3.2.1).

There are two parts to a LEAR evaluation:

  1. Land Evaluation (LE), which assesses inherent soil and climatic conditions for agriculture. OMAFRA's CLI mapping is used to identify and compare the agricultural capability for common field crops.
  2. Area Review (AR), which considers other factors important to agricultural potential such as fragmentation of the land base and how land is used.

Scores from the LE and AR components are weighted and combined to provide an overall LEAR score for each evaluation unit in the study area. The highest scoring evaluation units represent areas with the greatest agricultural potential. Additional analysis and criteria are involved in delineating prime agricultural areas, including mapping areas with high LEAR scores to identifiable boundaries (See OMAFRA's Agricultural System Mapping Method document).

Figure depicts the upper and single tier municipalities in the GGH that have undertaken a Land Evaluation and Area Review. City of Hamilton, Halton Region, Peel Region and York Region are highlighted .

Municipal LEARs in the GGH

For the GGH LEAR, OMAFRA assigned 60% of the LEAR score to LE factors and 40% to AR factors. Like all municipal LEARs, greater weighting was given to the LE score because provincial policy emphasizes the need to recognize the inherent suitability of the land for agriculture. The two AR factors used were: the fragmentation of the land base and the area in agricultural production20. The GGH municipal LEARs also used these AR factors, but some used additional AR factors and/or different data sets for mapping.

Once the total LEAR score for each evaluation unit in the study area was calculated, evaluation units with high, medium and low scores were grouped based on specific threshold scores arrived at through sensitivity analysis and consultation.

The LEAR mapping was then used to help identify prime agricultural areas (high LEAR scores) and candidate areas for the agricultural land base (medium LEAR scores in agricultural production).


Principles for OMAFRA's GGH LEAR:

  1. Alignment with provincial objectives and policies.
  2. Use of the most recent and robust data available for the entire study area.
  3. Factors are mutually exclusive to avoid double counting.
  4. The number of factors is limited to avoid diffusing the importance of each factor.
  5. Factors are well-reasoned and understandable to the public, agricultural stakeholders and decision-makers.
  6. The method addresses differences between municipalities.
  7. A balanced approach is used where agriculture and natural heritage overlap.

Additional detail is provided in the Agricultural System Mapping Method (OMAFRA, 2018).


20 Use of these combined factors means that areas may still receive a high LEAR score even if there are a small number of non-agricultural uses and small residential lots because the area as a whole is predominantly in agriculture and the land base is relatively intact.


References


For more information:
Toll Free: 1-877-424-1300
E-mail: ag.info.omafra@ontario.ca
Author: OMAFRA Staff
Creation Date: 09 February 2018
Last Reviewed: 09 February 2018