Agricultural land continues to be eaten up by urban expansion, report shows
By Kate Ayers
Alberta’s municipal governments need to be more cautious about allowing high-quality farmland to be consumed by residential and industrial expansion, a university report said.
Prime agricultural land in highly populated areas of the province is being lost through rezoning. Land-use policies should be amended to address longer-term impacts of this practice, according to a University of Alberta article earlier this month.
“Municipal governments have to come to grips with what they want their communities to look like in the future,” Brent Swallow, one of the report’s co-authors, said in the article.
“Just having cheap services financed through extra tax revenue is not enough of a goal. It’s short-term with long-term costs.”
The amount of land dedicated to urban or industrial uses between Edmonton and Calgary rose by 52 per cent between 1984 and 2013, representing 1,600 square kilometres, according to the study.
Between 2000 and 2012, about 35 per cent of the land converted to industrial or residential uses was top-rated crop land. Another 34 per cent was classified as second-highest in quality.
Development of farmland has been driven by population growth and expanded road networks to service rural subdivisions, the article said.
Neighbouring municipalities should work together to create co-ordinated land-use plans and taxation formulas instead of competing with one another, Swallow said.
The public is also willing to invest in protecting farmland.
A survey of 320 urban and rural residents in the Alberta Capital Region showed it was important to preserve ag land for air quality, clean water and scenic beauty. About 80 per cent indicated they would be willing to pay a one-time $20 fee towards farmland preservation. Over 50 per cent said they would pay $300, according to the article.
Those contributions “could build a pool of funds for conservation efforts, and (the responses) indicate that municipalities should take steps to preserve prime farmland,” Swallow said.
The Alberta Land Institute’s research team is now collaborating with municipalities to develop better planning tools and to facilitate land-use decision processes.
“It’s helping generate more shared discussions about land use,” he said.