Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) Advice to the Ministry of Energy regarding FIT 2.0 Soil Study Protocol
Protocol for the Land Evaluation Studies to Assess Feed-in Tariff (FIT) Eligibility for Ground-Mounted Solar Facilities on Properties with a Mix of Prime Agricultural Land (Classes 1 to 3) and/or Organic Soil, and Non-Prime Agricultural Land (Classes 4 to 7)
The Canada Land Inventory (CLI) “Soil Capability for Agriculture” is an inventory of soil information used in part to evaluate and classify land in terms of its capability to produce common field crops (e.g. corn, soybeans, small grains, forages). CLI maps of Ontario were derived from the soil classification results developed through a long history of soil survey work and associated report and map production (circa 1929-2002). Most of southern Ontario was mapped using soil survey intensity criteria at a scale of 1:50,000. However, in some regions, the best available soil classification maps were produced at scales of 1:63,360 or even 1:126,720. This has limited the scale of the derivative CLI maps developed for the province. As a result, the CLI maps for Ontario are most useful for broad scale, regional land use planning purposes.
A much higher resolution is required to determine FIT eligibility on a parcel or sub-parcel basis. Under FIT 2.0, proponents submitting an application involving properties with a mix of prime agricultural land (CLI Classes 1 to 3) and/or organic soil, and non-prime agricultural land (CLI Classes 4 to 7), must provide a soil study based on a standardized methodology. This study is needed to confirm that proposed ground-mounted solar panels can be placed only on the non-prime agricultural portion of the property.
“Prime agricultural land” includes CLI Classes 1, 2 or 3 land. “Non-prime agricultural land” includes CLI Classes 4 through 7. More specifically:
- Class 4 – Soils in this class have severe limitations that restrict the choice of crops, or require special conservation practices and very careful management, or both
- Class 5 – Soils in this class have very severe limitations that restrict their capability to producing perennial forage crops, but improvement practices are feasible
- Class 6 – Soils in this class are unsuited for cultivation, but may be suitable of use as unimproved permanent pasture
- Class 7 – Soils in this class are unsuitable for any arable culture or as permanent pasture
Disclaimer: The information contained in this protocol is not necessarily authoritative and may be subject to change. This protocol is not intended to provide an exhaustive or comprehensive methodology for completing soil studies and assigning CLI ratings.
This protocol is provided by OMAFRA as advice to the Ministry of Energy and for its sole use to guide developers in their completion of land evaluation studies for the FIT 2.0 program. This protocol is subject to change, in conjunction with the FIT Program.
Furthermore, this protocol is intended to be used solely by a land evaluator who is, at a minimum, an experienced soil scientist/pedologist. The taxonomic conventions found in the “Canadian System of Soil Classification” (Expert Committee on Soil Survey 1981) are to be used to report on all site-specific findings under the FIT 2.0 program. The existing CLI maps will be used as the basis for all FIT 2.0 land evaluation studies. The Government of Ontario assumes no liability for any conflict, inconsistency, error or omission, or for any actions or decisions taken in reliance upon this information by project proponents or other third parties.
Subject Property Background Information: It is recommended that all land evaluators identify the original county soil survey report and map from which the CLI map product was developed. This will identify the scale at which the original soil map product was compiled. Soil units delineated on the subject property should be correlated with the soil units as they have been classified and presented in the digital soil database (Soil Complex data layer from Land Information Ontario). These may differ from the legacy published soil survey map and report for that particular county or municipality due to periodic revision by the province and/or Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. Those legacy reports and maps can be found on the Canadian Soil Information Service (CANSIS) website.
To obtain existing soil complex/Canada Land Inventory maps for the subject property:
OPTION 1 – GIS Software: Obtain the most recent soil complex / CLI data layer and assessment parcel layer from Land Information Ontario (LIO) website. Overlay the CLI mapping with the assessment parcel fabric and identify the non-prime agricultural portion of the mixed soil property, if any. The county, township, lot and concession information should also be identified in the title of the map. The date the CLI maps were obtained from the LIO website should be clearly noted.
OPTION 2 – OMAFRA AgMaps: Use the interactive mapping website. Find the location of the mixed soil property using the “Find Location” tab. Then, turn on the parcel layer, and the soil complex/Canada Land Inventory data layer. Create a map layout & appropriate map title using the button. The date the CLI maps were obtained from AgMaps should be clearly noted. Then, create a PDF by emailing the map as an attachment.
Using OPTION 1 or 2: Identify the non-prime agricultural soil map units, if any, within the property boundary. Identify the soil components within the map units. Identify the associated Canada Land Inventory ratings and any limitations if they exist for the subject property.
Guidelines for Property Inspection: The FIT 2.0 property-specific CLI land evaluation will be based on an adequate density and distribution of soil profile and landscape site inspections. A general soil surveying guideline is one ground inspection per two square centimetres on the final map (Expert Committee on Soil Survey 1981). For example, at a scale of 1:10,000, this translates, at a minimum, to one site inspection per two hectares of the study area. In some cases, such as sites with a high degree of soil/landscape variability, a land evaluation at a scale of 1:5000 would be more appropriate. Ultimately, the proponent undertaking the soil study and the third party reviewer must determine the scale required to accurately assess the site’s soil capability. Inspection site locations (by GPS coordinate) will be presented in map form, and the soil profile data for each inspection site will be included in a database that accompanies the project report. The “Field Manual for Describing Soils in Ontario” (Ontario Centre for Soil Resource Evaluation 1993) provides field assessment guidelines for classifying soils and the landscapes in which they occur.
The agricultural capability for common field crops (corn, soybeans, small grains, forages) will be interpreted using the document “Classifying Prime and Marginal Agricultural Soils and Landscapes: Guidelines for the Application of the Canada Land Inventory in Ontario” which has been informed by the Expert Committee in Soil Survey (1983) field manual.
Provisional Statement: All FIT 2.0 land evaluations will be determined upon the assumption that the existing Canada Land Inventory map units are correct. Detailed evidence must be systematically collected and provided to test this assumption. Any areas failing to meet the criteria as originally mapped will be clearly identified by the proponent undertaking the soil study and assigned a new classification according to the CLI assessment guidelines. The information developed from this detailed investigation will be compiled systematically into a report that accompanies a digital version of study area map and its associated CLI polygons.
Recommended Qualifications for Soil Scientists/Pedologists Undertaking Project Studies
Land evaluation studies under the FIT 2.0 program are undertaken entirely at the risk of the ground-mounted solar project proponent. Land evaluators are expected to have a very firm understanding of soil science and related discipline principles founded in a sound academic base, relevant experience, ongoing professional development and experience in providing objective, professional judgement.
More specifically, it is recommended that soil scientists/pedologists undertaking land evaluation studies have, at a minimum:
- a post graduate degree in soil science, geoscience, forestry, biology, resource management) or engineering (terrain related); and
- a minimum of five years of demonstrable consulting/professional practice in land evaluation/soil related projects.
The land evaluators should submit, with the soil study, their résumé and a detailed list of recent (last five years) land evaluation/soil projects in which they have been the lead or played a significant role.
Recommendations for Third Party Review
Each land evaluation/soil study report will be subject to a third party review process for the purposes of the FIT program. The third party reviewer will be required to complete a prescribed form that indicates that he/she has reviewed the study and the qualifications of the report author, and based on his/her professional experience, is in agreement with the methods and findings of the soil study. Further, the third party reviewer must attest to their own objectivity and confirm that they have no direct or indirect professional, financial or personal affiliation with the soil scientist(s)/pedologist(s) who authored the soil study.
Third party reviewers must have a very firm understanding of soil science and related discipline principles founded in a sound academic base, relevant experience, ongoing professional development and the application of professional judgement.
It is recommended that third party reviewers, at a minimum:
- hold a post graduate degree in soil science/pedology, geosciences or terrain-related engineering.
- demonstrate a minimum 8 years of consulting/professional practice in land evaluation/soil related projects.
Without limitation by the generality of the following, in reviewing land evaluations/soil studies, third party reviewers should follow a two stage process:
- review land evaluator credentials as provided in a résumé or CV to determine suitability of qualifications to undertake work
- review any relevant land evaluation/soil project experience or project references provided by the land evaluator
- review the submitted technical report and any digital files submitted and provide comments as required.
- provide an attestation in the form of a Prescribed Form generated by the OPA indicating:
- that the reviewer has no direct or indirect professional, financial or personal affiliation with the soil scientist(s)/pedologist(s) who authored the soil study ; and
- that the land evaluation/soil study and its results are consistent with accepted survey methodologies, industry standards and best practices
For more information on the protocol, proponents should contact the Renewable Energy Facilitation Office (REFO) at the Ministry of Energy. REFO can be reached by email at REFO@ontario.ca or by phone at 1-877-440-REFO (7336).
Expert Committee on Soil Survey. 1981. A Soil Mapping System for Canada: Revised. Research Branch, Agriculture Canada.
Expert Committee on Soil Survey. 1983. The Canada Soil Information System (CANSIS) Manual for Describing Soils in the Field, J. H. Day Ed. Land Resource Research Institute, Agriculture Canada, Ottawa.
Ontario Centre for Soil Resource Evaluation. 1993. Field Manual for Describing Soils in Ontario. 4th edition. Compiled by K. A. Denholm and L. W. Schut.
Provincial Policy Statement, 2005. Agricultural Policies and Definitions. Date Retrieved: July 18, 2012. URL: http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/landuse/facts/provpoli.htm
Sources of Information:
CANSIS – Soil Survey Reports for Ontario
Classifying Prime and Marginal Agricultural Soils and Landscapes: Guidelines for the Application of the Canada Land Inventory in Ontario
OMAFRA information pertaining to Ground-Mounted Solar Projects on Agricultural Lands
Land Information Ontario
Feed-in Tariff Program