FAQ Prime Agricultural Areas

Table of Contents

  1. What are prime agricultural areas?
  2. Where can I find maps showing where prime agricultural areas are located?
  3. Do all municipalities designate prime agricultural areas?
  4. Why does the PPS 2014 require municipalities to designate prime agricultural areas?
  5. Do all municipalities have prime agricultural areas, either by that name or an equivalent name?
  6. The PPS 2014 states that prime agricultural areas need to be designated. What does that mean?
  7. What is the basis for a prime agricultural area designation?

What are prime agricultural areas?

Prime agricultural areas include specialty crop areas and areas where prime agricultural land (Canada Land Inventory [CLI] Classes 1 to 3) predominates. While mainly comprised of CLI Classes 1 to 3 lands, prime agricultural areas may also include associated smaller pockets of poorer-capability lands (Classes 4 to 7) and additional areas with a local concentration of farms.

Sample map showing lands included in prime agricultural areas

Figure 1. Sample map showing lands included in prime agricultural areas

Where can I find maps showing where prime agricultural areas are located?

Most municipalities with high quality agricultural land have designated these areas in their official plans. In these municipalities, prime agricultural areas are shown on the land use schedule of the official plan (i.e. map of land use designations). Municipalities may use different names for the designation it does not have to be "prime agricultural area." For example, designation names such as "agricultural rural area," "agricultural protection area" and "agricultural area" are also used. This means that you must review the official plan policies in addition to the land use schedule and/or consult with municipal planning staff to confirm the intent behind the designation. Many municipalities make their official plans accessible via the internet.

Do all municipalities designate prime agricultural areas?

The 2014 Provincial Policy Statement (PPS) under the Planning Act requires that prime agricultural areas be protected and designated for long-term use for agriculture. Given that the Planning Act requires municipal land use planning decisions to be consistent with the PPS, most municipalities with prime agricultural land (specialty crop areas and/or CLI Classes 1 to 3 lands) designate prime agricultural areas in their official plans. Those municipalities that have not yet designated their prime agricultural areas will need to amend their official plan to be consistent with the PPS. Normally this would occur as part of a municipality's five year official plan review.

In southwestern Ontario, many municipalities designate all of the area outside settlement areas as "agricultural." This reflects the fact that the entire area outside of settlement areas can have prime agricultural land. Many municipalities, particularly in central, eastern and north-eastern Ontario, have both "agricultural" and "rural" designations. This usually means that some of the area outside of settlement areas has prime agricultural land and some has poorer-capability land. There are also cases where prime agricultural areas are shown in the lower-tier (e.g. town, city, township) municipal official plan rather than the upper-tier (e.g. county, region, district) official plan.

Further, there are cases where municipalities have no official plan, or only a draft official plan. It is best to consult the municipality in question to verify how prime agricultural areas

farmers harvesting onions

Figure 2. Farmers harvesting onions

Why does the PPS 2014 require municipalities to designate prime agricultural areas?

Ontario's prime agricultural areas are finite, scarce, non-renewable resources. They are the foundation of local food production, agri-food exports and the growing bioeconomy, and are a significant contributor to jobs and economic prosperity in Ontario.

Designating prime agricultural areas in a municipal official plan assists with implementation of the agricultural policies of the PPS and ensures these lands are clearly identified and protected. It also helps with the overall planning of a municipality in relation to new or expanding settlement areas, locating infrastructure and planning natural heritage systems.

Do all municipalities have prime agricultural areas, either by that name or an equivalent name?

No, only areas with prime agricultural land as shown on the CLI maps have prime agricultural areas. Most prime agricultural land is concentrated south of the Canadian Shield.

The PPS 2014 states that prime agricultural areas need to be designated. What does that mean?

The PPS is an outcome-oriented document so it's important to consider what we are trying to achieve regarding prime agricultural areas. There are different ways of implementing this policy.
The preferred approach of the province, and one that is followed by most municipalities, is to have prime agricultural areas as a category of land use identified on a land use schedule or map, with corresponding policies in the official plan.

However, other acceptable approaches may achieve the same objectives of:

  1. mapping the lands, and
  2. through policies, providing for their protection and permitting agricultural uses on them may also be acceptable.

What is the basis for a prime agricultural area designation?

Prior to designating prime agricultural areas, a municipality usually undertakes a study involving analysis of maps and information such as CLI, parcel size and configuration, and prevailing agricultural cropping patterns.

Municipalities should consult with OMAFRA when undertaking a study to identify prime agricultural areas. Prime agricultural areas are intended to be large, contiguous areas which protect current and future opportunities for agriculture.

Prime agricultural areas may include specialty crop areas, Classes 1 to 3 lands, associated poorer-quality lands (Classes 4 to 7) and additional areas with a local concentration of farms. After prime agricultural areas have been identified, the municipality amends their official plan to designate these areas. This is a transparent process involving public notification and input.

Agricultural  Information Atlas Logo

OMAFRA's Agricultural Information Atlas provides easy access to agricultural information and a map-making tool for analyzing agricultural areas.


For more information:
Toll Free: 1-877-424-1300
E-mail: ag.info.omafra@ontario.ca
Author: OMAFRA Staff
Creation Date: 27 October 2014
Last Reviewed: 28 January 2016