California’s Drought Could Upend America’s Entire Food System

On April 1, California Governor Jerry Brown stood in a field in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, beige grass stretching out across an area that should have been covered with five feet of snow. The Sierra’s snowpack — the frozen well that feeds California’s reservoirs and supplies a third of its water — was just eight percent of its yearly average. That’s a historic low for a state that has become accustomed to breaking drought records.

In the middle of the snowless field, Brown took an unprecedented step, mandating that urban agencies curtail their water use by 25 percent, a move that would save some 500 billion gallons of water by February of 2016 — a seemingly huge amount, until you consider that California’s almond industry, for example, uses more than twice that much water annually. Yet Brown’s mandatory cuts did not touch the state’s agriculture industry.

Agriculture requires water, and large-scale agriculture, like that in California, requires large amounts of water. So when Governor Brown came under fire for exempting farmers from the mandatory cuts — farmers use 80 percent of the state’s available water — he was unmoved.

 “They’re not watering their lawn or taking long showers,” he told ABC’s “The Week” the Sunday after he announced the restrictions. “They’re providing most of the fruits and vegetables of America to a significant part of the world.”

Almonds get a lot of the attention when it comes to California’s agriculture and water, but the state is responsible for a dizzying diversity of produce. Eaten a salad recently? Odds are the lettuce, carrots, and celery came from California. Have a soft spot for stone fruit? California produces 84 percent of the country’s fresh peaches and 94 percent of the country’s fresh plums. It produces 99 percent of the artichokes grown in the United States, and 94 percent of the broccoli. As spring begins to creep in, almost half of asparagus will come from California.

Read more of Natasha Geiling's posting.

An Opportunity for Canadian Agriculture

The lack of water in California is forcing farmers to plough under orchards and stop planting on tens of thousands of acres.

Dr. Sylvain of the University of Guelph says Canada could benefit from California's troubles as he writes in An Opportunity for Canadian Agriculture.

Of course, we can only produce more food if we hve the land upon which to grow.

Read the full story.

Bobolinks and Meadowlarks in search of some breeding space

bobolink-inthehills
Photo from In the Hills Magazine

Bobolinks are home to Melancthon Township, the land that was threatened by the Mega Quarry proposal.

 

Long a familiar sight in southern Ontario farm fields, these grassland birds are disappearing. So conservationists and others are joining forces to find practical ways 
to reverse the decline.

The voices of bobolinks and meadowlarks were once part of the soundscape of the tallgrass seas of mid-North America. Prairies were alive with the buzzing of rattlesnakes, the clucking of prairie chickens, the hoofbeats of antelope and the barking of prairie dogs. And of course, the thunder of millions of bison. The grasses of that soundscape, in full flourish, were tall enough to caress the withers of horses ridden by the Dakota, the Siksika and other Aboriginal peoples. Bobolinks and meadowlarks thrived among these grasses and undoubtedly found their way into First Nations’ lore, for these birds of song and colour are impossible to ignore.

Bobolinks and meadowlarks were probably also familiar to the Petun, Neutral and Wendat of Ontario. Though natural prairie in this province was scarce, these groups burned and cut woodland to create sunlit openings for farming and hunting, providing habitat not only for deer, but also for grassland birds.

Read full story by Don Scallen,  In the Hills Magazine, Volume 22, Number 1 2015

Halton Hills Calls for Quarries to Demonstrate Need

The municipal Council for the Town of Halton Hills passed a motion at its meeting on Monday evening, April 13, requesting that "the Ontario Government amend the Provincial Policy Statement and the Aggregate Resources Act to require aggregate extraction proponents to demonstrate need for the particular supply of resource proposed for extraction."

The Concerned Residents Coalition applauds this questioning of the Ontario Public Policy Statement which, since 2005, has eliminated the requirement for aggregate project proponents to demonstrate need for new aggregate sources leading to an increasing number of contested aggregate pit and quarry sites across southern Ontario. In these contentious cases, citizen and municipal priorities are trumped by provincial policy, a policy which is equally at odds with other provincial priorities. Doug Tripp, President of the CRC, responded to the Halton Hills motion, saying: "Your resolution to take the matter to the Province is right on the mark in our estimation.

There is no question that the skewed policy framework that exists in Ontario has given rise to these quarry and pit battles that besiege so much of Southern Ontario—which the Province clearly needs to address." In introducing the motion, Halton Hills Mayor Rick Bonnette referred to some of the submissions to the current review of the Aggregate Resources Act, including the David Suzuki Foundation, the Canadian Environmental Law Society and Gravelwatch Ontario, all of whom called for the reinstatement of proof of need for aggregate.

Mayor Bonnette concluded: "The proposed Motion...seeks to level the playing field and lead to having more comprehensive planning for individual extraction sites that is transparent, shows justification and need, and results in more sustainable use of aggregate resources." The Mayor has been very vocal about this issue. In a recent speech to the Acton BIA, he said, "You can't sit on your hands for this one." The Concerned Residents Coalition (CRC), a large grassroots group based in Rockwood, Ontario, and representing residents in Guelph Eramosa Township, Halton Region, Milton and Halton Hills, has been assessing the potential impacts of the so-called "Hidden Quarry" proposed by James Dick Construction Limited on Highway 7 just east of Rockwood and west of Halton Hills. Among the impacts would be an additional 26 heavy gravel trucks an hour driving through Halton Hills over an indefinite number of years, adding to an already serious truck traffic issue in the heart of the Town.The proposed site is on the boundary of Guelph Eramosa Township (GET) and Milton, and also, therefore, on the boundary between Wellington County and Halton Region. All these stakeholders are assessing the application, but it is GET which must make the decision whether or not to re-zone prime agricultural and hazardous land to industrial/extractive. The site is in the middle of agricultural and environmentally sensitive land and just across the highway from the Green Belt at the headwaters of major rivers feeding the Grand River Watershed.

For more information see www.hiddenquarry.ca .

 

By Concerned Residents Coalition
Posted on Niagara Escarpment News, April 14, 2015

 

OMAFRA Seeks Input on Guideline Draft

The Ontario Ministry of Food, Agriculture, and Rural Affairs has just issued a draft document, for input and discussion from the public, entitled Guidelines on Permitted Uses in Ontario’s Prime Agricultural Areas (February, 2015).  These Guidelines are being proposed to help municipalities, decision-makers, farmers, and others interpret the policies in the Provincial Policy Statement (2014)(PPS) on the uses that are permitted in Prime Agricultural Areas. 

This draft document outlines the PPS in its stated objectives of:

       1) maintaining the land base for agriculture;

      2) supporting a thriving agricultural industry and rural economy.

 

While the draft document doesn’t differ much in how permitted uses and what used to be called secondary uses have been approached in the past, it does mirror the PPS where it purports to protect and preserve prime agricultural areas in Ontario.  However, if you continue to read through Section 3 of the draft document, BEYOND PERMITTED USES, you will note that the PPS allows the removal of land in prime agricultural areas for “new or expanding settlement areas, limited nonresidential uses and the extraction of minerals, petroleum resources and mineral aggregate resources.” This section outlines the process by which land can be systematically removed from prime agricultural areas. Where is the protection of prime agricultural lands?

 

As it stands, these draft guidelines underline the fact that the PPS affords absolutely no protection for the preservation of Ontario’s best farmland. In fact the PPS allows a systematic method for the removal of land from prime agricultural use.  Why are there no ultimate protections for the preservation of Ontario’s best farmland?

 

We think there should be. Prime agricultural land should be defined and identified within an Ontario policy that disallows the removal of that land from agricultural use. As part of that, all existing urban boundaries and any urban growth plans in Ontario need to be examined in light of the objective of preserving prime farmland.  We are currently losing up to 350 acres a day of prime farmland here in Ontario and this cannot be allowed to continue.

 

Comments on the draft Guidelines on Permitted Uses in Ontario’s Prime Agricultural Areas (February, 2015) are being invited by the Ontario Ministry of Food, Agriculture, and Rural Affairs until May 23, 2015. The draft document can be found at the following link:  www.omafra.gov.ca/english/landuse/permitteduses.pdf  

You can fill out the Questionnaire posted on AMAFRA’s website

or email to: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

or by letter to:

Draft Guidelines on Permitted Uses

Food Safety and Environmental Policy Branch

Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs

1 Stone Road West, 3rd Floor

 

Guelph, ON   N1G 4Y2