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Navigating farmland severances

Navigating farmland severances

Property owners should be aware of special considerations for agricultural land in their counties. 

By Kate Ayers
Staff Writer

If you are considering a farmland severance, you should review a few items before embarking on the process.

Ontario has over half of the Class 1 agricultural land in Canada, but urban expansion, sprawl and severances have led to the loss of this valuable resource, the Government of Ontario website said.  

As a result, the provincial government has policies in place to protect prime farmland and to ensure sustainable ag production in the province for years to come.

“Obtaining an agricultural severance in Ontario involves a process which is fundamentally similar to obtaining any other kind of severance, with one important distinction – availability,” said Jessie Dobson and Anna Friend of Friend & Dobson, a firm practicing agricultural law located in Port Perry and Bobcaygeon, Ont. 

“Due to provincial policy, residential development in agricultural areas ranges from ‘discouraged’ to ‘not permitted.’”

Farmers can sever land but only to create lots for agricultural or agriculture-related purposes, or to sever a house from a farm property. However, such restrictions make it difficult for producers to create retirement lots or restructure their operations.

“A farmer seeking a severance will have to either ensure that the severed land is of sufficient size to support another agricultural operation or related use, or surplus a residential dwelling from a main farm parcel,” Dobson and Friend said.

The municipality must approve a land severance because it is considered within an established planning network. Such a review also ensures that new lots do not conflict with future planning goals, policies and community residents, the government website said.

“Farmers seeking to sever their land should first consult with the applicable municipal planning staff,” said Eric Davis, a Law Society of Upper Canada certified specialist of municipal law with Miller Thomson, a nation-wide law firm with expertise in business law, advocacy and personal legal services.

Experienced staff can help identify issues that a farmer may have not yet considered.

If the land owner can proceed with the land severance process, the next step is to fill out a severance application form, which is available at his/her local municipal office. This form will also list additional information and documentation that will be required, Davis said.

In this application, producers will need to provide a description of the existing property, current land designation and a detailed surveyor’s sketch. Some municipalities require applicants to submit a deed, said Dobson and Friend.

Some counties “also require agricultural applicants to complete a farm information form as part of the application. This form details the type of farming operation, existing buildings which will remain on the main parcel, manure storage facilities and the existence of drainage systems,” said Dobson and Friend.

Farmers may need to complete a farm data sheet if barns are within 500 metres of the lot to be severed.

Indeed, the application and review processes for land severances are time consuming.

“The timing may vary but one should not expect a severance to be granted in under 90 days,” said Davis.

In fact, “the entire process can take up to a year in many municipalities,” said Dobson and Friend.

“If an approval is granted, it is often conditional and requires the landowner to obtain additional information, reports and studies, such as an official survey or topological report. These reports and studies also take significant time (and often expense) to acquire.”

To determine the consent-granting authority in your area, contact your municipal clerk, the secretary-treasurer of the planning board or your nearest municipal services office. 

IMNATURE/iStock/Getty Images plus photo


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