Preserving farmland: Quebec is doing well, but must do better

While land speculation and climate change put pressure on agriculture, the Law on the Protection of Land and Agricultural Activities (LPTAA) is celebrating its 45th anniversary. Since its adoption in 1978, this law has brought about a real paradigm shift with the aim of protecting the business sector of the agricultural sector as a regional base throughout Quebec. Recognizing the invaluable value of land and its agricultural business, the law acts as a watchdog to protect it.

This avant-garde and strongly modern law is certainly the most important legacy of Jean Garron, Minister of Agriculture at the time, who wanted to combat the reduction in arable land caused by urban development in Quebec during the 1960s and 1970s. Over this period, the total area of ​​agricultural land was reduced by one third, primarily in the Saint Lawrence and Outaouais lowlands. This is due to destruction of farms, urbanisation, land speculation and alienation to non-residents.

“In 1958, during the construction of the Champlain Bridge, there were farms everywhere on the south bank,” recalls Jérémy Letelier, farmer and owner of Firme Letelier in Saint-Cyprien-de-Napierville and president of the Fédération de l’Napierville. UPA de la Montérégie since 2020. This remains typical North American development where urban centers develop away from the highway, not from the city center. When we do this, our agricultural land is often eaten up. ,

If Minister Garon, with the support of the UPA, succeeded in obtaining the necessary consent with the Council of Ministers to introduce the new law, he faced opposition, particularly from real estate developers and municipalities. A conflict that continues today, as urbanization catalyzed by factors such as housing crisis and population growth puts pressure on agricultural land. The lands located on the outskirts of the urban areas of Montreal and Quebec are the most vulnerable and yet, they are classified as the most fertile lands in Quebec.

The case history is classic and continues to repeat itself. “The most obvious thing is that the company wants to establish itself in the agriculture sector. she promises jobs Which will bring prosperity to the region, explains the President of the UPA Federation of Montérégie. One by one, its representatives convinced the mayor, the city council, as well as the MRC of the benefits of the project, then persuaded the agricultural producer to sell his land. It is the same story with real estate developers. ,

control the agricultural sector

The LPTA is trying to control the situation by all means, but the law has established an “agricultural zone” where the construction of housing and businesses is regulated. Each request for rezoning or amendment of use must be submitted to the Commission for the Protection of the Agricultural Sector of Quebec (CPTAQ), an independent and specialized organization created by the LPTAA, which evaluates it using a series of precise criteria. Does. If the Commission is to demonstrate that its goal is to protect agricultural land, it will sometimes have to minimize the negative consequences of new settlements.

The CPTAQ is responsible for enforcing the law, but is not infallible, as shown by the work of the Pronovost Commission on the future of agriculture and agri-food in Quebec in 2007–2008, which stated that “from 4,000 hectares More agricultural land disappears every year in Quebec due to urbanization. The average authorization rate for applications submitted to the Commission is 74%, indicating pressure on the agricultural sector.

Objective adopted: To maintain food capacity

According to statistics, the agricultural surface area in Quebec has remained stable over the past 30 years. However, there have been significant changes in zoning in some agricultural areas, while agricultural zones have been added in peripheral areas.

A detailed analysis of the areas lost to uses other than agriculture now shows a reduction in agricultural area of ​​more than 57,513 hectares since 1998. We need to add 60,823 hectares to this sad balance sheet (MELCCFP, 2019). Agricultural land which is fallow. The final figure for agricultural land loss would therefore be 118,336 hectares, which is equivalent to the area made up of the islands of Montreal and Laval and a large part of the south coast of Montreal, i.e. La Prairie, Brossard, Longueuil and Boucherville. The observation is clear: we must avoid diverting agricultural land from its primary purpose at all costs.

The situation is more complex than it appears. Conflict increases when other activities are added to the equation; Let’s think about the uses and issues of cohabitation for example. The maintenance of agricultural activities located next to non-agricultural areas, supervision of what is often considered to be overabundance of agricultural activities, regulatory intervention by municipalities and many other factors threaten the productivity of the agricultural and forestry sector.

Furthermore, laws and regulations of various ministries and levels of government (city, MRC, etc.) add complexity and limit agricultural activities. A simple example is agro-environmental monitoring. Agriculture is an activity that is particularly regulated compared to many other economic sectors: there are some 23 environmental laws and regulations that apply directly to it. It does not include all other legislative or regulatory measures that may also apply to the sector and agricultural activities. The LPTAA must ensure that the right to practice farming and agricultural activities in agricultural areas is better protected by law.

Beyond the changes made in the agricultural sector, it must be understood that food capacity has decreased. Quebec’s Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, André Lamontagne, himself recognized this during the launch of the 2023-2024 national consultation to modernize the LPTAA. Quebecers from all walks of life were invited to send a brief to the government. The national consultation report is expected to be released in spring 2024.

The UPA left no stone unturned in demonstrating that the agriculture sector has been losing the equivalent of 12 football fields per day for 25 years. The association hopes that the bill, which will be introduced after public consultation, will redirect its efforts towards the realization of a social project based on strengthening Quebec’s food autonomy.

Is it useful to remember that in Quebec, less than 4% of the area is reserved for agriculture and less than half of this area is cultivated due to numerous obstacles such as lakes, rivers, wetlands, woodlands, rocky surfaces, sand pits, electricity, etc. Part is cultivated. Transmission lines, and others?

Today, Quebec has a small area of ​​cultivable land per inhabitant, only 0.24 hectares per inhabitant, a ratio 15 times less than Alberta, 6 times less than the Canadian average, 5 times less than the United States and 2 times less. Is. France.

Speculation on collective inheritance

Mr Letelier has rightly said that we do not know what will happen in the future. Although the country is stable and at peace today, no country is safe from seeing its fate plunged into political or climate crisis. “The Earth’s ability to feed us is a fragile notion, and as we saw with Ukraine, with border closures, grain shortages and water shortages, it can quickly become critical. ,

I have always been fond of the earth. My grandparents arrived here in 1962 from Normandy where they had experienced the war. He had only this much land left. Our family farms are a heritage gem that our ancestors cleaned and cultivated with their sweat. ,

Jeremy Letelier

access to land is difficult

If agricultural land is to be protected, access to it is also essential. The average price of agricultural land has increased, making purchase very difficult. If the average price of an acre in 1923 was $56 (or $22.66/hectare), we should expect an average of $16,627/hectare in 2021. This is one of LPTAA’s blind spots and is not in CPTAQ’s mandate. “It’s a big problem,” said Jeremy Letelier. There is no easy solution; It’s a set of tools that can make a difference. Solutions include reviewing municipal taxation, encouraging the sale of agricultural land to emerging agricultural companies through various measures, imposing disincentive taxation to avoid encroachment, and supporting reclamation farming of land. It will also be necessary to address the problem of speculators who leave land fallow in the belief that this will facilitate rezoning. ,

Meanwhile, the agriculture world has already equipped itself with new tools such as the Agricultural Social Utility Trust (FUSA). But for Jeremy Letelier, the solution requires a change in mindset that concerns all actors in society.

“When I think about everything that has been lost in the last 100 years, it tells me that we need to work harder and look at things over a much longer period of time. We cannot just waste these rich lands. We need to neutralize this feedback to allow us to turn to agricultural land when we need it. ,

We often forget that agriculture plays a fundamental role in our society. It is not only a pillar in ensuring our food autonomy, but it also contributes greatly to the socio-economic vitality of many rural communities, without forgetting its many benefits, whether at a social, economic or environmental level.

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