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Livestock and Agricultural Intensification: Community Perceptions of Environmental, Economic and Social Impacts as an Impediment to Agricultural Production

Research Proposal by Wayne J. Caldwell, Ph.D., MCIP, RPP


Submitted to: Research and Corporate Services Division Research Branch

Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs


University of Guelph, School of Environmental Design and Rural Development,

November 29, 2000

Project Summary

In many areas of Ontario livestock production has reached a crossroads. Community antagonism often translates into municipal by-laws which can be an impediment to agricultural production. Interim Control By-laws "halt" new development and zoning by-laws establish previously unthought of regulations, such as caps limiting the size of livestock operations. Moreover, the establishment of new barns is often accompanied by hostility and community unrest. Concerns over air and water quality, along with social and economic concerns are often at the heart of this unrest. Sometimes these concerns are legitimate and sometimes they are perceptions of how bad things will be after the new barn is built. Whether these concerns are real or perceived, there has been no community based, systematic and objective study of environmental, economic and social implications following the establishment of new, modern livestock facilities.


The absence of this information leads to four opportunities.


  • Opportunity # 1: Municipalities often make decisions on livestock production without having an objective analysis of what large barns means to the rural community. There is an opportunity for more informed decision making at the local level.
  • Opportunity # 2: Residents often oppose modern livestock facilities on the basis of a perception of anticipated issues ("NIMBY" - Not In My Backyard). Residents deserve to know how these facilities fit into the local community. There is an opportunity for a better understanding of the long-term compatibility of animal agriculture with the rest of the rural community and in turn to have a more informed citizen perspective in the planning process.
  • Opportunity # 3: Anecdotally we know what constitutes a "good or bad neighbour policy" - but from the perspective of residents we do not have a systematic analysis of what "works and what doesn't." There is an opportunity to more adequately identify and promote "good neighbour" policies that work at the community level.
  • Opportunity # 4: In Ontario, even with probable legislation, municipalities are likely to continue to adopt plans and by-laws that are increasingly restrictive and regulatory towards livestock production. While regulation is necessary it often occurs in the absence of a full range of options. There is an opportunity to learn from others and to identify new and innovative best practices for municipalities (and the province) in planning for the establishment and management of modern livestock facilities.


This research has a basic objective to develop information and identify approaches that will be of critical importance to farmers, community members and local politicians as they establish policy and make decisions that will determine the future of livestock production in Ontario. The research will document the relationship between livestock operations and neighbouring residents; it will identify those practices that contribute to a positive or negative relationship; and it will identify best practices used by municipalities in Ontario and elsewhere as they plan for the establishment of new livestock facilities.


Rationale / Objectives of Project

The continued viability of livestock production in rural Ontario is at least partially dependent upon the willingness of the community to accept this industry as it continues to evolve. Municipalities, reflecting demands from their ratepayers, are considering the adoption of by-laws which in one form or another restrict livestock farming. The intensification of the livestock industry has lead to much debate. Harrowsmith Magazine, for example, in a recent article (February, 2000) advises "anyone who lives the rural life…to …Scream bloody murder if some agri-business proposes to build a 200 sow finishing barn within 10 miles of your place." These types of attitudes reflect legitimate interests in air and water quality, but also reflect a paranoia about livestock farming that is not always justified.


This research has a basic objective to develop information and identify approaches that will be of critical importance to farmers, community members and local politicians as they establish policy and make decisions that will determine the future of livestock production in Ontario. More specifically this research has the following objectives:


To document issues of compatibility and to better understand the relationship between livestock facilities and rural residents.


  • To allow for more informed decision making - by the livestock industry, by rural residents (farm and non-farm) and by local and provincial policy makers
  • To identify, from the community's perspective, those practices that contribute positively or negatively to the relationship between livestock production and neighbouring uses
  • To identify best practices for municipalities into how land use planning can more effectively respond to the animosity towards livestock production that is most evident with the establishment of new large barns.

Anticipated Benefits to Agriculture and the Rural Community


The research will provide a number of benefits for agriculture and rural communities:


  1. It will establish a better understand of the long-term relationship (environmental, economic and social) between large livestock operations and the balance of the rural community.
    1. If the research demonstrates that large established barns (3-5 years) are relatively "good neighbours", residents and decision makers can look past the initial objections to the favourable experience of others. This is a critical factor as new barns are increasingly subject to political and public review. Or…
    2. Conversely, if the research demonstrates that large established barns (3-5 years) are a source of antagonism to neighbours the research will have identified components of a good neighbour policy that are likely to minimize conflict. In turn, this information can be used to improve the acceptance of animal agriculture in rural communities.
  2. It will provide the basis for education that promotes practices that help to create harmony between livestock producers and other rural residents.
  3. It will identify planning practices from municipalities in Ontario and elsewhere (Canada, U.S. and Europe) that minimize conflict and facilitates the proper planning and community acceptance of new livestock operations.
  4. It will provide information that will contribute to a provincial review of existing land use policy as it relates to agriculture.
  5. It will allow municipalities to identify their approach relative to other areas within the province (allowing them to make appropriate adjustments to their own planning documents).


In summary, the research will develop information and identify approaches that will provide a critical input into the local political dynamic which will determine the future of livestock production in the province of Ontario.