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Producers Call for Partnership Approach to Managing Water Quality Concerns

by 5m Editor
18 March 2006, at 12:00am

CANADA - Farm-Scape: Episode 2091. Farm-Scape is a Wonderworks Canada production and is distributed courtesy of Manitoba Pork Council and Sask Pork.

Farm-Scape, Episode 2091

Agricultural groups and rural municipal officials are urging the provincial government to consider wholesale changes to two regulations being proposed to reduce the amount of phosphorus ending up in the province's waterways.

One is the draft Water Quality Management Zone Regulation for Nutrients, developed to become part of the Manitoba Water Quality Protection Act which came into effect January 1, 2006 and which falls under the 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.

The proposed Water Quality Management Zone Regulation for Nutrients categorizes agricultural land into one of four classifications based on productivity and outlines best management practices intended to reduce the migration of nitrogen and phosphorus into waterways.

It also sets specific manure nutrient application limits for each of the soil zones, with applications prohibited outright in areas designated as zone four.

Proposed changes to the 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.

The intent of the changes is to reduce the amount of phosphorus ending up in waterways that make up the water shed for Lake Manitoba.

Public Consultation Concludes

In an effort to outline details of the proposed regulations and gather public input, the province conducted a series of nine public information and consultation sessions which concluded this past Monday (March 13, 2006)

That is in addition to several information meetings organized by various agricultural groups and municipal officials to bring their membership up to speed on the issue.

Common concerns expressed during those sessions revolved around the speed at which producers will be expected to comply with the new rules, the cost of complying with the changes and who will pay, the need for additional scientific research and specific issues related to the use of soil maps to determine where a specific parcel of land is located and the resulting nutrient restrictions that will apply.

Soil Survey Maps Raise Concern

“At the MCPA we would like to see the maps totally removed,“ states Manitoba Cattle Producers Association Vice President Martin Unrau.

“I know that the government has currently placed them (the maps) into guidelines only status, which is an improvement, but we know that there are still people out there who will glance at the maps and make their assumptions from what the maps are telling them.

People will take the maps as being solid science when they look at the different soil zones and they'll use them to implement the municipal policies and the municipal guidelines.“

Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP) Vice President Ian Wishart agrees, “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.“

Farmers in Zones Three and Four Face Particular Challenge

Unrau notes, “In the cattle industry, it's definitely the guys in the threes and fours that will really feel this regulation.“

He explains, “We know that the cows harvest phosphorus. We know when a cow grazes an acre of grass that 30 percent of the potential phosphorus is removed. I feel bad for some of these guys who are going to be put under stress because some of this land with swamps and the poorest soils are really going to feel the pinch if this thing goes through the way it's presented.“

Municipal Taxation a Concern

Tom Mowbray, the Reeve RM of Roblin, notes all producers regardless of the zone in which they operate, will be impacted by restrictions in other zones.

“By being zoned in that respect (in zone four) the value of that land or that operation will be reduced if this regulation goes through,“ he explains.

“You would not be able to sell the operation. The new tenant would not be able to proceed in that zone. Land values are a big issue, therefore from our point of view taxes are an issue. Our assessment could possibly be lowered.“

He cautions, “I believe that the producers who live on the zone ones and twos and, by the maps appear like they're not affected so much, have to understand that if there is a lowering of assessment in a large quantity of zone four land that the municipalities still need the same amount of money to operate from. If they can't gather that money from the zone four land, they will then have to increase taxes in the zone one and two lands to make up the dollars they need.“

Time Lines Too Tight

Another key concern is the time line in which producers will be expected to comply with the new regulations and the additional costs that will be incurred in doing so.

“We think that the financial burden that'll be placed on existing farms and cattle operations will be too huge for producers to bear, especially the ones that are in the zones threes and fours,“ Unrau continues.

“If we could revisit the whole regulation in partnership with the government and the other players at the table like Manitoba Pork and so on, maybe work on a longer time line, some of these hurdles might be overcome.“

Keystone Agricultural Producers Vice President Robert McLean echoes the point, “They're asking us to do a lot of changes in a short period and we can't.“

“We don't have the money to enact these regulations. It's going to cost producers of Manitoba, we feel, a lot of money. We don't have that extra money to offset these costs.“

McLean suggests, “I think the government needs to put the breaks on. They are and they've said that they are going to do an economic impact study. It’s not going to come out, my understanding, for another year. I think we need to wait for that to come out. We need to work together. We need to work as commodity groups and Keystone Agricultural Producers and farmers with government. We need to consult, we need to talk, we need to have the dialogue before these regulations are put in. We all need to know how it's going to affect us and we all need to work together before this comes into effect.“

Alternative Proposal Being Circulated

In an effort to accomplish just that Manitoba Pork Council is circulating what it calls, Plan 5-10, a proposed alternative to the current proposal.

Pork Council community relations and sustainable development director Peter Mah explains, “The agricultural community and municipal officials have spoken loud and clear that they don't want to be targeted with a regulation that is premature and that they're looking for a partnership approach with government to be able to make sure that anything that would move us toward water quality stewardship is done in a partnership way.“

“The agriculture community is already doing many many things correctly,“ he says. “And we feel a more appropriate approach is to look at producer education along with the adoption of best management practices that are targeted to improving water quality.“

Manitoba Pork Council believes its alternative offers a better solution than a strictly regulatory approach.

“It includes some opportunities for regulations but it builds upon a step by step approach that is practical and cost effective,“ says Mah.

“We're building a voluntary approach in addition to a very site specific farm based approach through environmental farm planning so that nutrient management comes standard practice for every farm and you're going to look at it for crop planning as well as to look at the kind of nutrient requirements you need on your farm so it's a way of balancing that rather than a top down approach.“

Provincial Government Remains Confident

Dwight Williamson, the Director of the Water, Science and Management Branch of Manitoba Water Stewardship remains convinced the regulations currently being proposed will have a minimal impact on the day to day operation of most farms.

“What we'll see is a discontinuation of harmful practices but, for the most part, for most producers, they'll be able to work within this. If nutrient inputs are balanced with crop removal rates there ought not to be a problem at all.“

He notes, in an effort to address the concerns, a number of changes are now being considered.

“We did initially intend that the maps be imbedded as part of the regulation and we're proposing now that that not be the case. We still want them referenced and we want them widely available but only for use as guidelines, so we want them to be used where ever it's useful to use them but not to be imbedded in the regulation.“

Williamson explains, “The maps simply depict for us where it's most likely to find these features on the landscape and what will really count is what you find on the ground when you get out to that landscape.“

He admits, “We know there's some variability in the maps but they simply get us close to that feature on the landscape and it is in fact what we find on the landscape that really counts.“

He continues, “In our initial consultation document we had proposed that we have annual application rates as well for nitrogen along with the soil residual value that ought not to be exceed at the end of the year. We're proposing now to discontinue use of the annual application rate. Our interest is really what's left over, what's unused. It's that unused nutrient that can become available for transport to water systems, so there are quite a number of changes like that.“

Williamson observes, “In most cases what we've identified as zone four, the fragile sensitive lands, are not under production at the present time. There may be a few exceptions to that but, for the most part, these are not under production. What we don't want to occur as the livestock sector and other sectors in agriculture continue to expand, that expansion not occur into those fragile areas.“

Final Recommendations at Least a Month Away

So far there are no specific indications in terms of when the proposed regulations will become law.

“We are still inviting and expecting to receive written comments as part of the consultation process and so we're going to take some time now consider everything that we've heard,“ says Williamson.

“We will be, and it will take probably at least a month or a little bit longer to ensure that we fully understand all the comments that we have received so it's going to take some time for that before we're in a position to makes recommendations to the government on what additional changes or approaches might be needed.“

Farmers Urged to Make Their Voices Heard

Meanwhile producers are being encouraged to familiarize themselves with the proposed regulations, determine how the changes will impact their own individual operations and then pass that information on to MLA's and to the ministers of Water Stewardship, Conservation and Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives.

Staff Farmscape.Ca

5m Editor