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Shock and Dismay at Manitoba's Permanent Moratoriums

by 5m Editor
10 March 2008, at 9:47am

CANADA - Hog producers in Manitoba are evaluating their future following the announcement that the provincial government will impose permanent moratoriums on the construction of new or expanded hog barns in three regions of the province, writes Bruce Cochrane.

Earlier this week (March 3), following the release of the Manitoba Clean Environment Commission's (CEC) final report on the environmental sustainability of the province's hog industry, Conservation Minister Stan Struthers announced the province wide “temporary pause” imposed in December 2006 will be replaced by indefinite moratoriums.

Permanent Moratoriums Imposed in Three Regions

Areas that will be affected by the moratoriums include Southeastern Manitoba which has been identified as an area that does not have sufficient land base to allow for further spreading of livestock manure; the Red River Valley Special Management Zone, including the Capital Region of the province, identified by the Phosphorus Expert Committee as a vulnerable region because it is prone to flooding; and the Interlake which has been identified as ecologically unsuitable for further hog expansion.

As well, in lifting the pause in other parts of agro-Manitoba, new restrictions will be imposed on both new and existing hog operations in accordance with recommendations contained in the CEC's final report.

Unprecedented Growth Prompts Response

Conservation Minister Stan Struthers explains, the temporary pause, brought forward in November 2006, was in response to unprecedented growth that had taken place since the early 1990's in the hog industry.

“We asked the Clean Environment Commission if the hog industry is environmentally sustainable and they very clearly came back to us and said that in some parts of the province the answer is no. In some areas we don't have that kind of environmental sustainability and we need to slow things down.”

Pork Industry Shocked by News of Permanent Moratoriums

The release of the CEC report and news of the moratoriums have been greeted with shock and dismay by the province's pork producers. Manitoba Pork Council estimates the moratoriums will affect at least two thirds of the province's pork production.

Pork Council Chairman Karl Kynoch says, while producers do have concerns with the report itself, the decision to impose permanent moratoriums is particularly disappointing.

“What just blew us out of the water was the fact that the government went outside of the report and implemented a permanent moratorium on the eastern side of the province which wasn't even a recommendation in the report. This is a huge concern to hog producers.”

Kynoch points out the biggest problem is the negative impact the ban on expansion will have on the value of those farms. It will eliminate any opportunity for small producers to expand to either improve the viability of their operations or bring in additional family members.

CEC Report Contains 48 Recommendations

The Clean Environment Commission's report contains a total of 48 recommendations.

Over half deal with manure and nutrient management and the application of manure. The report recommends the strengthening of some environmental regulations, earlier and expanded enforcement of others. It calls for additional environmental research and recommends government support for producers as they adapt to the changes.

“We conducted a thorough investigation,” says CEC Chairman Terry Sargeant.

“We heard from a lot of people throughout the province who had stories to tell us on all sides of this issue. We listened carefully to those stories and we weighed the evidence that we heard from Manitobans along with the research that we read that was conducted for our benefit. And we came up with what we think is a very reasonable report that will allow the industry to continue into the future in an environmentally sustainable manner and will protect Manitoba's waterways and environment.”

He admits there will be some cost implications for hog farmers in the recommendations that have been made but, he notes, the government has indicated there will be some assistance or incentives to help them move toward those new regulations.

CEC Identifies Areas Facing Environmental Risk

Sargeant acknowledges, it's obvious that some areas, for example the southeast corner where the minister has implemented an ongoing moratorium, have reached their capacity, particularly once the phosphorus regulation is put in place.

He notes the Red River Valley has its own unique issues, specifically that it is periodically inundated and there can be significant issues surrounding manure runoffs after an inundation.

He adds, in the Interlake, the third area where the minister implemented an ongoing moratorium, people have concerns related to surrounding soil types which allow runoff into groundwater, rivers and ultimately the lakes on either side of the Interlake.

“That's the basis on which we move forward with these permanent moratoriums,” says Struthers. “And we've got a mandate to treat very seriously the protection of water in Manitoba and we intend to do that.”

Manitoba Pork Council Denounces Claims

“We don't agree with that at all,” says Kynoch.

He acknowledges there is a very small part of the southeast corner of the province that is nearing its capacity and that (issue) is being addressed. But to ban hog expansion in the entire region when there are actually still chemical fertilizers being applied is not being reasonable.

“There's lots of arable acres out there that can handle manure and we feel that the way we apply it provides very good nutrients for the crops.”

Central Manitoba Colony Uses Manure to Displace Chemical Fertilizer

Starlight Colony operates a 600 sow farrow to finish operation near Starbuck, about 40 kilometers southwest of Winnipeg. The colony also raises turkeys, chickens and layers.

Hog Barn manager James Hofer laments “the moratorium means no more expansion or adding on to existing operations which is a crippling blow at this time.”

The roughly six million gallons of liquid manure produced annually by the hogs and chickens are used by the colony as fertilizer to grow a wide range of crops including wheat, barley oats, canola, flax and soybeans.

“We have our own pumping system where we inject all our manure with an airway injection cultivator,” Hofer explains.

Livestock Manure Provides Superior Fertilizer Product

In terms of the dollars and cents, he isn't sure of the exact numbers but, with the recent rise in chemical fertilizer prices, he recognizes there's a real value in hog manure.

“It replaces those fertilizers and at the same time is even more friendly when it comes to the environment because it's a natural fertilizer.”

Hofer, a certified pork production technician, stresses, in terms of its fertilizer value, hog manure actually out performs commercial fertilizer.

“The nutrients in hog manure are more available to the plants and hog manure contains a wider range of the nutrients required by plants than commercial fertilizer.”

Kynoch agrees, “There's a lot of extra nutrients in manure that you don't get out of chemical fertilizers. We're finding that the ability to be able to apply this manure at the proper rates can actually produce top quality crops. As long as it's handled properly it is not an environmental risk. It's a huge value added to a lot of operations.”

He suggests, the moratorium eliminates an opportunity for farmers to access valuable crop nutrients at a time of high fertilizer prices.

Greater Public Urban Awareness of Food Production Needed

Hofer would like to see government get its head around how livestock is being produced.

He insists, with global positioning satellite systems, on farm feed mixing equipment that is more accurate than ever and a Canadian Quality Assurance (CQA) program that requires every drug to be prescribed by a veterinarian and every injection to be documented, agriculture has never had a better handle on what it's doing than now.

“I just fail to realize why government and urban populations can't make the connection when it comes to the food we're producing.”

Government to Move Forward on Adoption of CEC Recommendations

A committee which will be led by Manitoba Conservation and include representation from Manitoba Agriculture Food and Rural Initiatives, Manitoba Water Stewardship and Manitoba Intergovernmental Affairs has been struck to move forward with the adoption of the CEC's recommendations.

Struthers notes discussions with Manitoba Pork Council and others related to funding that can be used in the transition are ongoing.

“Last year in the budget we identified two and a half million dollars however we also made it clear that we understood it would be more than that, and that, in discussions with producers, pork council and others, we could come up with an approach that would help farmers during the transition period.”

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5m Editor