Maintain an agricultural land base by reducing the fragmentation and conversion of agricultural land.
In December 2008, the provincial Land-use Framework (LUF) identified agricultural land loss (i.e., conversion to non-agricultural uses such as housing) as an area in need of further analysis and possible policy development. Public consultation in the years leading up to 2008 revealed that this policy gap was perceived due to public concern around food security, local food production, and concerns that the Government of Alberta was not doing enough to stop urban and rural residential growth (i.e., sprawl) around major urban centres – particularly along the Edmonton to Calgary corridor. In response, Alberta Agriculture and Forestry (AF, formerly Agriculture and Rural Development) and Alberta Municipal Affairs were tasked with addressing this complicated issue.
Historically, AF monitored and regularly reported on the conversion of agricultural land to non-agricultural uses. Reports exist for a 20-year period stretching from 1976 to 1996; however data has not been collected since until quite recently, starting in 2011. These reports indicate that since the early 1980s to the mid-1990s, the province lost less than one tenth of 1% of its total agricultural land on a net basis per five year reporting period.
Much of the land that was converted, however, was highly productive crop land, located along the corridor and often associated with Alberta’s major urban centres. Despite these losses, new agricultural land did become available during this period, albeit of lower crop productivity, and located in more northern reaches of the province. Concurrent to these changes in land capability, Alberta continued (as it does even today) to increase productivity as a result of improved agricultural production practices and breeding programs. Today, Alberta remains a strong export-focused agricultural economy, with over 40% of its primary commodities and over 35% of its value added products destined for foreign markets.
Through regional plans under the LUF, AF is committed to monitoring and reporting on not only the conversion of agricultural land as identified by the 2008 LUF document, but also the fragmentation of the agricultural land base. This commitment responds to each regional plan’s Implementation Plan, and specifically the “Maintaining a Healthy Economy” section, where AF has stated a commitment to maintain and diversify the agricultural economy by reducing the fragmentation and conversion of agricultural land. Aimed at maintaining both large and small agricultural land areas to support economic development opportunities and build strong rural communities, this strategy – along with planning strategies identified within the “Strengthening Communities” section of the Implementation Plan – provides an expectation that municipalities will seek to reduce the fragmentation and conversion of their agricultural lands.
In order to deliver on its commitment under regional planning, AF developed a methodology to calculate the extent of fragmentation and conversion of agricultural land in Alberta. An explanation of how this methodology was developed, the land use classes considered, and the challenges encountered while exploring alternative methodologies, is provided in the document titled: Fragmentation and Conversion of Agricultural Land in Alberta. Land-use Framework Reporting: Background and Methodology.
AF is committed to publishing annual results of its fragmentation and conversion monitoring. These results, available below, provide information provincially, by LUF region, by Land Suitability Rating System Class. AF has also reestablished a commitment to develop five-year summaries and trend analysis reports.
Regional Land Use Changes
Maps: Agricultural Land Conversion by Municipality
Research and Analysis
Alberta has the second largest number of farms after Ontario, the second largest farm area after Saskatchewan, and the largest cattle herd in Canada. Alberta is a surplus producer of field crops and potato as well as beef, pork, and mutton. The Province is deficit in dairy, poultry, and egg production due to supply management quota limitation while deficit in fruits and vegetables partly due to climatic limitations.