Pork Producers Disappointed by Passage of Bill 17

by 5m Editor
27 September 2008, at 6:27am

CANADA - Despite the passage of legislation that will ban swine industry development in much of Manitoba, the province’s pork producers continue to hold out hope for some measure of flexibility.

On Wednesday (September 25), although both the Manitoba Conservatives and the Manitoba Liberals voted against it, Bill 17 passed third reading in the Manitoba legislature, the last step before receiving royal assent, by a count of 36 for, 19 against.

The Environment Amendment Act establishes permanent moratoriums on the construction of new or the expansion of existing hog barns in three regions of the province, including southeastern Manitoba, the Red River Valley Special Management Area, including the Capital Region and the Interlake.

Rally Fails to Sway Vote

About 150 pork producers and their supporters turned out Wednesday afternoon to take part in a rally on the front steps of the legislature to protest the bill and to express support for the “Zero Percent Solution,” a proposed compromise amendment intended to ease the anticipated impact of the bill, one of several proposed amendments that had already been rejected earlier in the debate. Ultimately the bill was passed without amendments.

“That is a real tough situation that producers find themselves in,” says James Hofer, the chairman of Manitoba Pork Council’s research and environment committee and the barn manager with Starlite Colony at Starbuck, one of the operations within the designated area.

He describes the bill as another nail in the coffin and, for a lot of them, it might be the last one.

Failure to Recognize Farmers’ Efforts Frustrating

Starlite Colony has been a leader in terms of environmental responsibility.

“We have 400 day manure storage capacity, we file manure management plans and the advancements we’ve been able to make in terms of manure application and manure management are huge,” says Hofer.

He is bothered by the fact that the government fails to recognize the efforts that farmers are putting into what they are doing.

Small Family Farms Most at Risk

Manitoba Pork Council Chair Karl Kynoch fears Bill 17 is going to destroy a lot of the smaller farms.

“A lot of the smaller farms have lost their life savings out of this. A lot of the small ones will disappear.”

Although Kynoch doesn’t expect a huge shift in hog numbers, he believes the bill will push farms larger to justify meeting the new demands.

He expects the loss of a lot of family farms, which will eliminate opportunities for young people to start up.

“They need to be able to start small and that ability has now been taken away from those young producers.”

He concedes, damage from the bill has already been done.

He says he has already heard from producers who have said they will either have to shut down or move out of the province.

Bill Expected to Harm Rather than Help the Environment

“This Bill 17 is just misguided and wrong headed,” says Manitoba Liberal leader Dr. Jon Gerrard.

When you put a moratorium on the industry, you freeze the industry where it is instead of allowing it to grow, to innovate, to expand and to improve the way it addresses environmental issues and hog management issues, he says.

“What hog producers need is the ability to expand because, at the same time you expand you introduce new technology, you improve the way you look after the environment. By freezing things for much of the province, what’s going to happen is we’re going to have less ability to address environmental and animal husbandry issues. The reality is we should be moving forward instead of being frozen.”

Adopters of New Technology Offered Flexibility

“There will be some flexibility on the side of technology,” says Manitoba agriculture minister Rosann Wowchuk.

“If an individual is implementing a bio-digester or a separator then that will be considered as environmentally friendly and those kind of facilities will be able to proceed. They’ll still have to get a license to operate. We are also looking at other areas where there are small operators who might be able to join their operations together.”

Wowchuk adds, a transition fund that will be announced very shortly will help people adapt to this new law and meet the environmental requirements that will be required for them to continue operating.

Kynoch remains skeptical. He is puzzled by the government’s drive to promote anaerobic digestion.

“An anaerobic digester does nothing to remove phosphorus out of the end product. It actually makes it more concentrated,” he points out.

He remains convinced that Bill 17 is the wrong approach, which is why his organization developed the Zero Percent Solution, an alternative that would have imposed limits on the amount of manure nutrients that could be applied, banned winter spreading and required incorporation of manure within 48 hours of application, instead of a broad moratorium.

He believes the option of consolidating smaller farms will be especially challenging, particularly for those producers who are used to running their own operations and the different sizes of those operations will further complicate things.

“When they talk about operations joining, they’re talking about hauling manure to one central pit and this kind of thing. You start having to do extra handing of the manure. So, again, that’s an added cost. A lot of these operations, the smaller ones, have more than enough land base to deal with that nutrient already.”

Progress Being Made

Dr. Gerrard observes pork producers have made some very significant progress.

“It’s not perfect but, for example, almost all producers have moved to inject the manure into the land so it doesn’t run off into the waterways, we’ve got changes in looking after animals. There’s much less in the way of bacteria using so we have less problem with resistant strains and there’s changes coming in terms of how we house the animals.”

Wowchuk acknowledges, “If you look at the research that is being done, here at the Glenlea Centre, if you look at projects like anaerobic digesters, if you look at other projects such as separating the dry material from the liquid material there have been successful projects.”

However, she stresses, “Ultimately what we have to look at is the land base we have, how much nutrient can be put on it and how much can be sustainable. It has to be sustainable. The Clean Environment Commission has made recommendations on how we should be doing those things and those recommendations are being implemented.”

Kynoch points out, “The CEC did not recommend putting a moratorium on the hog industry. The government spent $750,000 doing a Clean Environment Commission review of our industry and has gone outside of those recommendations.”

Bill 17 Viewed as Anti-Farm Anti-Rural

Manitoba Conservative agriculture critic Ralph Eichler believes, “A very clear message has been sent by this government, they’re anti-farm.”

“They’re wanting to phase in regulations that are certainly detrimental to farming and the farming community and, as a result of that, send a message out to rural Manitoba that they don’t really care about rural Manitoba.”

Eichler stresses, “We all want clean water. Everybody agrees on that. How we get there is the real answer.”

He believes we need to rely on those people that have the expertise, the scientists the university people, the people that study this. He notes the experts made it clear during the public hearings, there is no need for a moratorium.

Producers Question Further Investment in Research

Hofer considers it unfortunate that it comes down to where a government essentially shuts down the industry without justifications behind it.

“As chair of research and environment committee on pork council the members are saying to me, what’s the use in spending another dollar on research when government does not listen to science any way.”

He finds it frustrating that a government which professes to have an open door policy would proceed with such legislation without due consultation with the industry that it will affect.

News Regulations Offer Room for Additional Flexibility

The process of developing regulations for the new act does offer some hope.

Kynoch says pork producers will want to be talking to government and hopefully have some input into these regulations.

“There are some good recommendations that have come out of the Clean Environment Commission report I think that we can deal with. There’s some that probably need some adjustment so we’re going to have to try and get talking with government and see what we can do moving forward to make sure the producers that are left can meet the new regulations that are coming down.”

5m Editor