Lot Creation in Ontario's Agricultural Landscape

Trends, Impacts, Policy Implications


Dr. W.J. Caldwell, Professor,
School of Environmental Design and Rural Development
University of Guelph


Arthur Churchyard, Claire Dodds-Weir,
Anneleis Eckert, Charlie Toman


Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA)

executive summary
Ontario’s planning policies regarding lot creation in prime agricultural areas are a modern expression of the age-old battle to balance competing land uses. In the interest of remaining competitive in the global market and meeting new social challenges, many agricultural operators are choosing to expand their operations, whether large or small scale, through intensification. Concurrently, rural non-farm lots are segmenting Ontario’s rural landscape. While these changes to the rural landscape can complement one another, they can also be the source of considerable tension. Numerous conflicts between scattered rural development and an increasingly industrial farm sector have been documented (Caldwell and Williams, 2002).

New non-farm lots not only remove land from agricultural production, but can also restrict surrounding agricultural land and potentially threaten future agricultural viability. Non-farm residential lots can introduce to rural areas, urban dwellers who may have limited understanding of the agricultural landscape. Conflicts surrounding noise, dust, water pollution, livestock and manure odours, chemical applications, and sharing of the road with slow-moving farm machinery can arise. Even residential severances that were initially related to the agricultural operation can create conflict later as the lots are sold and resold to individuals without an agricultural connection.

In an effort to address these issues, the 2005 Provincial Policy Statement (PPS) placed more emphasis on the protection of agricultural land and thus restricted residential severances. The changes permitted surplus dwellings as the only residential severance in the agricultural designation. This research generates a count of rural non-farm severances from 2000-2009 in 35 counties/regions with Official Plans containing agricultural designations. This data, combined with the previous study of this nature conducted in 2001-2002 using data from 1990-1999 by Caldwell and Weir, gives a large data set to identify trends for a 20 year period. Data will be presented for the Province of Ontario; four regions of the Province including Eastern, Central, Western, and Southern; and each upper and single tier municipality. This research project has been completed by researchers at the School of Environmental Design and Rural Development, University of Guelph.

Prior to 1990, municipalities were required to circulate farm related severance applications to the then-Ontario Ministry of Agricultural and Food (OMAF). This provided OMAF the opportunity to review and monitor the creation of new lots on agricultural land to help inform policy. The Planning Act, introduced in 1990, did not require municipalities to circulate severance applications to the ministry. As a result, there is no single source, accurate record of severance activity in the agricultural areas of Ontario. This research fills the knowledge gap by building on previous research examining severances from 1990-1999 and contributing new data for the period 2000-2009. The 20-year data set covers two key policy changes in 1996 and 2005. An examination of the changes in severance activity pre- and post- policy change can help gauge the effectiveness of policy and identify strengths and areas for improvement. Policy changes in 1996 and 2005 both further restricted rural development with the 2005 policy permitting surplus dwelling severances as the only residential severance in agricultural designations. This document will provide the count and type of severances in agricultural designations in 35 counties/regions across Ontario.

This research will be of broad interest to those working in agriculture, rural communities, and sustainable development. Results will be of particular interest to provincial planning staff, most specifically, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing. Upper, lower, and single tier municipal councillors and staff will also draw upon this resource to assist in their understanding of complex trends in their municipalities. Results are especially relevant to ongoing reviews of the Provincial Policy Statement, the Greenbelt Plan, and Places to Grow. Other indirectly informed acts include the Green Energy Act, Nutrient Management Act, and the Farming and Food Production Protection Act.
goals and objectives
  • Document the numbers and purpose of lots created within rural and agricultural Ontario
  • Identify the local land use policy that was in effect when these lots were created
  • Determine the relationship between current provincial policy and the creation of rural non-farm lots. Identify the impact these lots are having on the agricultural industry and review the impact on the viability and sustainability of agriculture in rural communities
  • Provide quality information to assist with upcoming reviews of the Greenbelt Act and the
    Provincial Policy Statement. Maintain the data gathered on a publicly accessible web site

This project aims to assess the impacts of lot creations (severances) in Ontario from 2010-2019. This presentation was part of Dr. Wayne Caldwell’s 2021 Research Advisory Committee Meeting.

For more information about this project, please contact dave.guyadeen@uoguelph.ca.