Manitoba Farmers Encouraged to Participate in Water Quality Management Consultations

CANADA - Farm-Scape: Episode 2066. Farm-Scape is a Wonderworks Canada production and is distributed courtesy of Manitoba Pork Council and Sask Pork.
calendar icon 21 February 2006
clock icon 13 minute read

Farm-Scape, Episode 2066

Farmers throughout Manitoba are being urged to familiarize themselves with proposed provincial water quality regulations and to express any concerns they may have during the current round of public consultations.

The issue revolves around two separate regulations proposed by two separate departments. One is the draft Water Quality Management Zone Regulation for Nutrients, which falls under jurisdiction of Manitoba Water Stewardship. The other is a set of draft regulations for phosphorus under the Manitoba Livestock Manure and Mortalities Management Regulation of the Environment Act which falls under the jurisdiction of Manitoba Conservation.

Draft Water Quality Management Zone Regulation for Nutrients

The draft Water Quality Management Zone Regulation for Nutrients was developed to become part of the Manitoba Water Quality Protection Act which came into effect January 1, 2006. Agricultural organizations are encouraging their members to examine the implications of the proposed regulation for their own individual farms.

The proposal categorizes agricultural land into classifications based on productivity, and outlines best management practices intended to reduce the migration of nitrogen and phosphorus into waterways and sets manure nutrient application limits. The draft document encompasses coloured soil maps, water quality management zone maps, and prescribes within those zones certain best management practices intended to minimize the movement of nutrients into waterways. The key focus of the draft regulation is Lake Winnipeg and its surrounding watershed.

Agricultural Land Broken into Four Zones

Dwight Williamson, director of the water science and management branch of Manitoba Water Stewardship, explains “The central and southern part of Manitoba has been divided into four zones. Each zone has been separated from the others based upon about 13 different criteria, all in some way related to agricultural capability. Those factors also relate to the potential for loss of nutrients either, for example, through course soils leaching of nitrate down to groundwater or characteristics of the landscape that would make it more likely that phosphorus would run off to nearby streams.“

He says, “For each zone we’ve proposed different nutrient management regimes based upon the landscape characteristics – how likely that landscape is to either lose nutrients to the groundwater or to surface water. And then we’ve identified maximum residual levels that need to be taken into account to manage nutrients on the landscape. These are levels that should not be exceeded at the end of a growing period.“

Williamson stresses, “These are just upper limits that will, in the first place, start to put a peak on the increases that we have seen in the past three decades of nutrients coming off the landscape. This is one of the first steps to begin to turn around that trend.“

Agricultural Groups Deeply Concerned

“Certainly we were very critical of the approach of using a map based system, one that used very inaccurate data and put many producers on the wrong side of a line without really being a rational approach to it,“ states Keystone Agricultural Producers Vice President Ian Wishart.

“We’ve expressed a lot of concerns about the first draft of the proposed regulations,“ Wishart says, “and they have responded to some of them, in their latest document. Not necessarily to the degree that we would like.“

He explains, “A lot of the approaches that they’re taking us to are not necessarily well based in science. We don’t have the data. There’s a lot of unanswered questions. How we have an impact in terms of reducing lost phosphorous? A lot of questions about buffer strips, do they really work? How should we be applying the manure or any fertilizer because certainly they intend to get to fertilizer in the end? Can we continue doing things like spreading at certain times of the year? Can we compost? Can we do winter grazing? All these questions are not yet answered. It raises a lot of questions and these questions are very important. They must be addressed. Producers have got to know what they can and can’t do.“

Maps Lack Adequate Detail

Manitoba Pork Council director of community relations and sustainable development Peter Mah agrees.

He explains, “What we’re seeing here is that a lot of the maps themselves are high level reconnaissance scale maps which do not denote actually what’s taking place on the ground. Therefore it tends to classify land inappropriately. It sets in place certain practices. Again restricts certain nitrogen and phosphorus applications. Won’t maximize ability to maximize crops. It’s going to require considerable changes in practices for producers which will be very costly and at the same time may not end up with any environmental benefits from the kind of practices that we see.“

Retired Ag Canada Scientist Calls for Site Specific Management

Dr. Loraine Bailey, who spent 35 years at the Brandon Research Centre before retiring to the private sector, says the maps being used to define the water quality management zones raise several concerns.

“They’re broad scale maps. They do not, and were never intended to, look at environmental management because they’re too broad a scale.“

Dr. Bailey notes, “After those maps were produced, then the soil survey people went in and started to do detailed soil surveys at a smaller level, a more manageable level. Even those maps stretch the imagination but they’re workable. Any one of these farmers in here, they could take you on their land, on their farm, and they could show you on that farm what they would call class four land. Nothing can produce on it. They could also show you on that same farm class one land and how did that become class one land, through proper management.“

Dr. Bailey stresses, “I know that right now, in some of the world that I do contract work, I could go out in one field and that on that one field I could show you levels of phosphorus that ranges from about 20 [parts per million] to three and some even greater than that, from about 60 to three. We have to go to a unit, I’m not saying let’s take a field. I’m saying go to a unit that is manageable.“

Limited Information Available on Agricultural Soils

Manitoba Pork Council General Manager Andrew Dickson notes, “Only 30 percent of the land has been done at the detailed soil survey level.“

He continues, “Currently only about ten to 15 percent of the land in Manitoba is soil tested and, of that, only a proportion is done on an annual level. Our recommendation is to have all fields within the next five to ten years to be soil tested on an annual basis the same way livestock producers over 300 animal units have to supply a manure management plan every year based on a soil test to the department of conservation. If we can take the same approach and do it with all agricultural activities on land then I think we’ll address very clearly and succinctly for the general public and to farmers the most appropriate use of these nutrients in the environment.“

Dickson adds, “Our basic recommendation back is focus on the education process. Get all Manitoba producers over the next five to ten years to have individual environmental farm plans done. Have individual soil tests done on each field. And that will give the province a good over view as to the level of nutrients in soils and they can then focus on those areas where remedial action may need to be taken.“

Maps Fail to Account for Local Variations

Dr. Bailey agrees, “They’re [water quality management zone maps] not detailed enough to get to what I call site specific management.“

“In other words,“ he says, “I have 200 acres of land on my farm that I can look at the management of nutrient at, let’s say level one, at a high level. I also have 400 acres over here that I can’t do that with, I can only operate at a level three. That’s what should be done so that you do not have a zone where everybody in that zone has to live with the same criteria. What would happen in that case is that you’re going to lose yield, you’re going to lose crop quality.“

Dr. Bailey estimates “77 percent of the profitability on a farm today comes from yield, 13 percent is marketing, 10 percent is management. Straight off the bat, you lose yield. You’re going to chase that guy off the farm.“

Proposed Regulation Provides Room for Flexibility

Williamson points out, “For new operations or new developments this is clear, our intention is to not allow those to be approved for locating in those areas [zone 4]“.

However he notes, “For existing operations that may have through historical practices already have been allowed to locate there, we will look at those. The water protection act allows the mechanism for us to look at those one at a time. If it represents little risk to the environment the director of the act, in his or her discretion, can allow it to continue to operate, for example, for another generation or until title changes.

In other cases, if it in fact does represent a significant risk to the environment, then the director’s obligation would be to put in place reasonable time lines and measures to cause changes to occur.“

Livestock Manure Management and Mortalities Regulation

Meanwhile changes being proposed to Manitoba Conservation's Livestock Manure Management and Mortalities Regulation call for restrictions on manure nutrient applications based on the soil content of phosphorus as well as nitrogen based on soil test results.

Al Beck, manager of environmental livestock programs for Manitoba Conservation explains, “In the past the regulation has focused on nitrogen and nitrate levels in soils and also how manure is stored, construction of storage facilities, that sort of thing, management of mortalities.“

He says, “Now we want to address the potential impact to surface water quality. That is phosphorus as a pollutant that may originate from manure in part. There is an increasing public awareness of the degradation of water quality in Lake Winnipeg, and certainly it’s become apparent on many other lakes and streams around the province. And we know from a whole host of scientific research conducted over the last 30 to 40 years that phosphorus is the trigger behind most algae blooms in most lakes.“

Beck says, “We want to address the whole picture. Nitrogen, nitrate is primarily a concern for ground water, drinking water sources and that sort of thing. Here we want to look at surface water as well.“

Changes Key on Threshold Phosphorus Limits

Under the proposed amendments, on land where soil tests show phosphorus levels are 180 parts per million or greater, the application of manure will be prohibited. Where phosphorus levels range from 120 to 179 ppm, application will be limited to the crop removal rate of phosphorus. Where levels range from 60 to 119 ppm application is limited to two times the crop removal rate. Where soil tests indicate phosphorus levels are below 60 ppm application limits will continue to be dictated by existing soil nitrogen guidelines.

Beck stresses, soil test results submitted in support of manure management plans show phosphorus levels to be below the 60 percent threshold on 90 percent of the agricultural land in Manitoba.

He notes, “The number of producers who will be affected varies across the landscape. In intensively developed areas where there’s a lot of livestock production side by side a larger proportion of producers would be affected. In areas where livestock are not housed so closely together there would be little impact on producers.“

Times Frames for Compliance Considered Inadequate

If adopted, new and expanding operations would be required to comply immediately with the amended regulation while existing operations would be given three years to comply. Those unable to comply within that time frame would however be eligible for an extension to 2013 on the condition they provide a suitable manure management plan outlining measures they intend to undertake to come into compliance.

Dickson considers those time frames unreasonable. “We need a longer period of time, especially if we have to bring in new technologies and develop those and make sure they can apply to our conditions here in Manitoba,“ he says.

“We know that they’re saying that if you can’t do it they will give you a longer period of time, up until 2013 which is another five years on that. But our problem with that is that it depends on them [Manitoba Conservation] giving immediate approval to do that. We know we don’t have a lot of technologies around right now. Some are at a very experimental stage, have not been proven economically and, until we can show producers that there are good technologies in place, it’s going to be a very difficult process to get people to move into this.“

He insists, “We know in southeast Manitoba the simple issue of just getting two to seven times more land base is not appropriate because it means cutting down more bush and doing more drainage in an area where Manitoba Conservation wants to try and preserve the forested areas.“

Public Consultations Now Underway

Both regulatory proposals are now under public review. The first public information session was held earlier this week [February 16] in Gimli. Additional sessions are slated for February 22 in Brandon, February 23 in Winkler, February 28 in Swan River, March 1 in Dauphin, March 2 in Winnipeg, March 8 in Lac du Bonnet and March 9 in Steinbach.

Manitoba Farmers Urged to Make Their Voices Heard

Farmers are being urged to familiarize themselves with the proposed changes and attend one of the sessions to express their own individual concerns.

“I would really encourage producers to attend this round of hearings, make their concerns heard,“ says Wishart. He suggests we need to adopt a more cautious approach and make sure the regulations we put in place are correct before they are implemented. “It's very important for producers to send letters to the ministers, to their MLA's,“ urges Manitoba Pork Council Chair Karl Kynoch.

He points out, “We’ve met with government. I’ve had that opportunity to meet with government but the ministers give a lot of weight when individual letters come in. The letters go across the desk and we need the help of producers here to get our message across and reinforce what we’re saying.“

Explore How Regulations Will Impact Your Farm

Kynoch suggests, “Look at the maps and see how they affect your farm on your own personal situation and then write a letter according to how you see this affecting you and what detriment it’s going to have on you and what’s going to be the cost to your operation.“

He stresses, “It’s really important to attend those meetings, get out to the consultation sessions. That’s probably your only shot at having some input into these regulations. If there’s anything you can do in the next little while, make sure you can attend those sessions. And, if you can, write a letter.“

For Farmscape.Ca, I'm Bruce Cochrane.

© 2000 - 2022 - Global Ag Media. All Rights Reserved | No part of this site may be reproduced without permission.