Rural Non-Farm Development

Its Impact on the Viability and Sustainability of Agricultural and Rural Communities


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

contributing researchers

Claire Weir
School of Environmental Design and Rural Development
University of Guelph


Research and Corporate Services Division Branch, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs

executive summary
Ontario’s agricultural industry is the most intensive and diversified in Canada. At the same time as agriculture has become increasingly intensified, however, there has been a significant increase in rural non-farm lots within the countryside. Unfortunately, however, an accurate count of new rural lots created since the early 1990’s does not exist. This makes it difficult to predict or understand related implications for the continued growth and development of Ontario’s agricultural industry. For example, between 1983 and 1992 more than 30,000 severance applications were reviewed by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs in Southwestern Ontario (Caldwell, 1995). Since that time, however, due to changing legislative requirements, municipalities no longer circulate severance proposals to OMAFRA and as a result there is no clear information on the numbers and distribution of new lots.

The absence of this information is critical from three perspectives.
  1. We do not know how many rural non-farm lots were created in Ontario in the 1990’s.
  2. We need to review provincial policy from an agricultural perspective, but have no clear information concerning rural severance activity upon which we can base this review.
  3. Finally, current issues concerning agricultural production (such as concern over intensive livestock facilities) are exacerbated by the amount of rural non-farm development that has occurred within agricultural areas.

This research proposes to document non-farm activity in Ontario’s agricultural areas. It will create a data base of the numbers of severances granted using existing municipal records. The research will focus on the 1990’s (the province has not collected this information since 1992). The research will identify implications for agricultural production. OMAFRA will be consulted to ensure that the research is of provincial value and can be used as part of their GIS system.

This research has two key goals:

Goal 1 (Phase 1): The development of a data base identifying the numbers of rural non-farm lots created within rural Ontario.

Goal 2 (Phase 2): This information will be analyzed to identify impacts on continued agricultural production (including the viability and sustainability of agricultural and rural communities).

These goals will be achieved through the following objectives:

    1. Document the numbers and purpose of lots created within rural and agricultural Ontario.
    2. Identify the local land use policy that was in effect when these lots were created.
    3. Determine the relationship between current provincial policy and the creation of rural non-farm lots.
    4. 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.
rationale/objectives of project
The continued viability of agriculture in rural Ontario is at least partially dependent upon the ability of the farm operator to identify changing trends in agriculture and to respond accordingly. The ability of the farmer to respond, however, is increasingly affected by the presence of non-farm development. Municipalities, reflecting demands from their ratepayers, are considering the adoption of by-laws which impede the ability of farm operators to respond to changing economic circumstances. The intensification of the livestock industry has lead to much debate. Harrowsmith Magazine, for example, in a recent article (February, 2000) advises “anyone who lives the rural life…to …Scream bloody murder if some agri-business proposes to build a 200 sow finishing barn within 10 miles of your place.” As new lots are created in the countryside these issues will become increasingly acrimonious. Similar concerns exist in other areas over greenhouse and mushroom production and concerns are often raised over traditional cropping practices (dust, noise etc.).

Population growth and non-farm development has often occurred in the midst of some of our best farmland. While historically we judged the natural advantages of an area for agricultural production based on climate and soils we must now increasingly consider the impact of indiscriminate rural non-farm development as an impediment to agricultural production.
anticipated benefits to agriculture and the rural community

The research will provide a number of benefits for the agricultural industry and rural communities.

  1. It will document the numbers of non-farm lots created in rural Ontario during the 1990’s.
  2. It will identify the problems which agriculture will face where there has been an “open” severance policy.
  3. It will identify those areas of the province where there has been a significant creation of non-farm lots.
  4. It will provide information that will contribute to a provincial review of existing land use policy as it relates to agriculture.
  5. It will allow municipalities to identify how they are doing relative to other areas within the province (allowing them to make appropriate adjustments to their own planning documents).
  6. It will identify issues associated with rural non-farm development and the corresponding implications for rural communities.
  7. Those municipalities that have successfully managed rural non-farm severance activity (and the policy that they use) will be identified for their “best practices.”