The Greenbelt spans 1.8 million acres of land in the Golden Horseshoe region of Ontario, including the Niagara Escarpment and the Oak Ridges Moraine. According to an occasional paper by the Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation, almost 1 million acres of the Greenbelt, or 61% of its land, is agricultural land. Over 9000 farmers on more than 6000 farms within the Greenbelt produce an astounding range of products from fruit, vegetables and grain to livestock, fresh flowers, honey, and other specialty products.
Let’s look at the numbers
More than 40% of fruit farms in Ontario are located within the Greenbelt. These fruit farms number over 1200 and cover around 35,000 acres of land. They include:
- 730 farms which produce 87% of Ontario’s plum and prune production, 82% of Ontario’s peach production, and 50% of Ontario’s cherry production
- 72 apricot farms covering 115 acres
- Over 550 grape growers, representing 90% of the vineyards in Ontario
- 365 apple orchards, or 15% of Ontario’s apple orchards
- 285 berry producers, representing 21% of the strawberry crop and 16% of the raspberry crop in Ontario
There are over 700 vegetable farms in the Greenbelt, producing an impressive array of products. Sweet corn, squash, pumpkins, carrots, and onions are the most commonly grown vegetable crops, although broccoli, green beans, cabbage, peppers, asparagus and a range of other vegetables are also grown. The Greenbelt contains:
- 2170 acres of sweet corn crop production, representing 12% of sweet corn production land in Ontario
- 1950 acres of squash pumpkin production, 21% of such land in Ontario
- 16% of the land area used for growing dry onions
- 25% of provincial broccoli crops
Approximately 44% of Greenbelt farms, or 3150 farms, primarily produce livestock. 40% of these are cattle ranches, but hogs and pigs, poultry and eggs, sheep, and goats are also produced. Other livestock farm activities in the Greenbelt consist of beekeeping, horse ranches, and fur-bearing animal and rabbit production. 8% of Ontario’s cattle ranches and farms are in the Greenbelt, with about half used for dairy production and half for beef production.
Other farms in the Greenbelt include oilseed and grain farms, which account for 12% of Greenbelt farms. There are also 880 greenhouses, nurseries, and floriculture farms, which make up another 12% of Greenbelt farms and almost a third of Ontario’s greenhouses, nurseries, and floriculture farms.
The average farm size in the Greenbelt is 149 acres, quite a bit smaller than provincial average, which is 243 acres. Farms on the Niagara Peninsula are an average of 61 acres, whereas in the Bruce County portion of the Greenbelt, farms are over 500 acres on average.
Greenbelt agriculture is also significant in terms of economics: in 2005, the Greenbelt reported a total $1.1 billion in gross farm receipts. Average revenue per farm in the Greenbelt was $23,069, a little lower than the provincial average ($26,569). However, on a per acre basic revenue was higher in the Greenbelt ($155/acre) than the provincial average ($109). In fact, in the Niagara region of the Greenbelt, average revenue per acre was an amazing $743!
The Greenbelt Plan (2005) aims to permanently protect agricultural land within the Greenbelt and support agriculture as the dominant land use. Before the Greenbelt Plan was implemented, the region was losing a considerable acreage of farmland. Between 2001 and 2006, the total area of farmland in the Greenbelt declined by 8.5%, much higher than the provincial average of 1% decline.
The Greenbelt Review in 2015 will give the Provincial Government the opportunity to address challenges and enhance protection in one of Ontario’s most diverse and important agricultural regions.