Wednesday, July 18, 2012


My name is David Vanderzaag.

Good afternoon, members of the committee, and thank you all for taking the trip up.

Thank you for being members of the committee.

It reinforces—I’m an optimist—my belief in government and democracy. It’s great to see you here.

I am a third-generation farmer with four sons and grow potatoes on an 800-acre farm directly adjacent to the proposed mega-quarry site.

I’m here to tell you this afternoon about the very unique nature of the soils on this 15,000-acre plateau. It’s a story that is not understood, and that is why I am here to do so.

This is a message that is lost today because only 1.5% of the population in Canada are farmers. By comparison, in 1930, one third of the population farmed.

How can the 1.5% be heard, and watch over and protect this resource that we all depend on, a resource that is under so much pressure?

It is a huge challenge.

My background is unique and gives me an acute appreciation for this land.

I grew up on a potato farm in Alliston and moved to Shelburne 14 years ago when we found this farm for sale.

I also am fortunate enough to operate five potato equipment dealerships in Michigan, Ontario, New Brunswick and PEI, and have visited farms all over the world.

This experience has given me a great appreciation for how blessed we are with prime farmland of this quality.

My father moved from a farm in Holland to Canada.

Before then, my grandfather won a lottery before the Second World War that allowed him to move from a small farm in North Holland to one of the new reclaimed polders.

During the Depression, in order to make that land good enough to farm, teams of men turned the soil over six feet in depth by hand to put the sand on the bottom and the loam on the top.

It’s something that occurs naturally right here.

In Holland, they spent millions turning water into farmland, the very opposite of what could happen just north of where we are sitting.

They had experienced hunger and knew that creating farmland and securing a food supply was in the national interest.

My principal argument is about land use planning and what makes sense for our society as a whole. I will attempt to explain to the non-farmers in the room why this land is unique and vital.

Describing it is like trying to describe a masterpiece you cannot see, but I will do my best, so let me explain in laymen’s terms what makes this class 1 ag land so special. It has 7 main characteristics:
(1) Its soil type is loam.
(2) It’s stone-free.
(3) It’s flat.
(4) It’s uniform. Each 100-acre block is the same.
(5) It’s contiguous. It is one large 15,000-acre block of the same soil type.
(6) It’s well drained.
(7) And its location: you get 28 inches of rainfall, a moderate climate, and we’re 90 minutes from five million people.

Any two or three of these characteristics alone would make land good.

This land rates “excellent” on all seven of these characteristics.

Let me explain.

Soil type: At the one extreme you have sand, like you find on a beach.

It can be worked easily but doesn’t hold water or nutrients very well.

At the other end of the spectrum, you have clay.

If it is heavy enough, you can make bricks from it.

Clay holds moisture and water but cannot be worked very easily.

It gets lumpy and can remain wet for far too long.

What we have is honeywood loam.

It is the best of both. It drains well like sand, yet holds water and nutrients like clay and it works smoothly, like butter in your hands.

It’s ideal for growing crops that grow in the ground, like potatoes.

Loam soils are exceptionally rare. Root crop farmers scour the province trying to find it and pay a premium when they do.

As the saying goes, “Good land breeds good farmers,” and the most expensive crops.

Where there is loam you will find high-value veg crops.

Potatoes, for example, gross $3,000 to $4,000 an acre while grain would gross $500.

Sand soils can grow vegetable crops, but it is not as sustainable for the environment.

Sand requires more fertilizer and requires much more water, all resources that are expensive and scarce.

Number two is that it’s stone-free.

This is self-explanatory and rare.

It is very important and a huge advantage when growing a root crop like potatoes that need to be separated from the earth.

Stones damage crops and equipment.

Almost all potatoes grown in Michigan, New York, New Brunswick and Maine—four important major growing areas—fight with land that has as many stones as it has potatoes. Just this characteristic alone makes us the envy of these regions.

Number three, it’s flat.

Hilly or rolling fields are difficult and dangerous for machines to work. Hilly land also erodes easily. When it rains, the high spots lose their topsoil and dry out, while the low spots drown out and get too wet.

In New Brunswick, for example, farmers use terraces every 60 feet around hills in much of their potato land to combat this.

It is uniform.

The farms here are of a uniform soil type throughout each 100-acre block.

This is very rare as well.

On many fields I have worked, the soil will change within the 100-acre area from clay to clay-loam to sand, all within the same farm.

Each farm on this plateau is the same from front to back, which is very rare.

On top of that, it’s contiguous.

This 15,000-acre plateau is contiguous.

It is not only uniform throughout the 100-acre block; the complete 15,000-acre plateau is essentially the same from field to field.

I can’t emphasize to people who don’t farm how rare this is.

It’s something that we have special right in our backyard.

By comparison, the Holland Marsh is about a 7,500-acre block.

Our plateau is twice the size and all in one block.

That’s the reason that I feel it’s important; because we really do not appreciate how what we have is unique.

If there’s one point I can get across today, I would like to
make that point.

Well drained: The 200 feet of karst limestone aquifer beneath the fields holds a tremendous amount of water and also maximizes drainage.

The limestone provides an open bottom that protects veg crops from flooding and damage from heavy rains.

A vegetable grown in the ground cannot sit in standing water without rotting.

We have had cases of nine inches of rain in the spring, but within 24 hours all the free water had dispersed into the karst and underground river systems.

By comparison, the land west and east of this plateau needs tile drains strung 20 to 40 feet apart to accomplish the same. But tiling doesn’t come close to doing the same thing.

Location: We are only 90 minutes from Canada’s largest city and five million people.

We are blessed with an average of 28 inches of rainfall a year.

Compare this to regions in the US which do not get enough rainfall and depend solely on irrigation for their water.

For example, the Ogallala aquifer runs under eight states, from Texas to South Dakota. Its volume of water is equal to that of Lake Huron.

That region provides one fifth of the US ag harvest and has been over-pumped, and there are estimates that that aquifer will be depleted in 25 years. There are warning signs of what’s coming ahead.

Now that you see what characteristics make this land unique, we have seven out of seven—seven excellent ratings out of seven.

Just how scarce is this class 1 type of land, the highest-quality land available?

An analogy that I can do to help you understand that is that if the province of Ontario were a 100-acre farm, only three-and-a-half acres of that 100 acres would be farmland and less than one thousandth of an acre would be vegetable land, growing the highest-value, highest-tonnage crops per acre.

As far as land use planning goes on our 100-acre farm, why destroy the most valuable one thousandth of an acre when there are 96 acres of non-farmland available, or the poorest class 4 to 7 farmland at minimum?

While I’ve tried my best to describe this soil and its rare qualities, you have to see it. Considering what is at stake—the magnitude of the proposed mega-quarry on this very land—I would like to invite you to visit our farm so we can show you what we are talking about: where your food comes from and how unique this farmland is. Individually or as a group, you owe it to yourself to see first-hand. You owe it to Ontarians.

This discussion is about stewardship.

Farmers cannot do it alone.

The farmer’s voice and our knowledge are getting crowded out by the 98% who don’t farm.

The stewardship of our land is a responsibility that must fall on all of us and, to a much larger degree, our elected officials, who provide leadership and set policy.

I applaud the government for the steps taken so far—the environmental assessment that has been ordered for this unprecedented application and for the review of the ARA.

Thank you.

But now is the time to take the next step.

Now is the time to call for a moratorium on all aggregate applications involving prime farmland until the flawed ARA is revised.

It is clear that there are problems with the act.

Prime farmland is not protected under the ARA, and that must change.

There is no downside to taking the time to get it right.

I close with a final quote from Franklin Roosevelt back in 1937: “The nation that destroys its soil destroys itself.”

Those wise words are more valid today than ever.

Thank you for your time and attention.
edit note: this is who he is doing this for:


  1. Anonymous19 July, 2012

    Beautiful job Dave, thank you.

  2. Anonymous20 July, 2012

    The incredibly classy act that is David V. ALMOST balances out the Highland/Baupost Greed Follies. Almost.
    Add Carl C. and all the others who are fighting to stop the Mega Disaster and the scales are tipped in our favour. Even Hill and Knowlton has been unable to put a shine on Highland. We don't need a multi-million dollar PR company, all we need is people like Dave V., speaking from the heart...

  3. Thank-you David! It is straightforward, honest, easy to understand and your passion shines through. Even the most uneducated about the value of our land and the importance of not messing up our soil and water so that we can continue to grow food should be able to grasp the basic facts after reading this.