LETTER FROM ONTARIO
The concept I like, it's the reality that's got me worried—
Ontario's Nutrient Management Act in this edition of the Letter

Farm & Countryside Commentary by Elbert van Donkersgoed

Editor's NOTE

Elbert van Donkersgoed is the Strategic Policy Advisor of the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario, Canada. CFFO is supported by 4,500 family farmers across the province of Ontario.

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March 25, 2004: Last week’s conference, “Integrated Solutions to Manure Management” in London, was great for gathering insight into the changes that others are promoting for farming’s ecological footprint. I came away profoundly disturbed. Some of the proposed solutions will set us up for failure – failure to lighten farming’s ecological footprint.

In the 50s and 60s, every 100 or 150 acres was a viable family farm. Almost all had livestock and the total number of animals on Ontario farms was greater than it is today and livestock were not an environmental issue. Over the past quarter century, growing towns, scattered rural development and farming, redesigned by technology, have combined to create risks for our countryside, especially the quality of our water resources.

At the London event, a stream of presentations proposed a technological fix for farming’s contribution to those risks. A high tech fix, using anaerobic digesters, coagulation reactors, peat biofilters, electro-catalytic reactors, biogas facilities and continuous flow hyperbaric reactors. Interesting technology, but designed to remove nutrients from farmland. How can that be stewardly or sustainable? The shift in livestock production from all farms to fewer but much larger farms has already resulted in no manures being applied to many acres of Ontario farmland. This is a major environmental hit. Continuous cropping on these soils has meant declining organic matter and tilth, and increased susceptibility to drought and other adverse conditions such as erosion. Livestock manures belong back on the land.

Secondly, Ontario's Nutrient Management Act and its 300 pages of regulations and protocols were presented as a done deal. It is not. This project remains burdened with hidden agendas and a lack of practicality.

There has been no quantification of the specific risks for which pollution prevention is needed.
The cost -- time, paperwork and infrastructure improvement -- will be large while the benefit for the environment will be minimal. There will not be enough benefit to measure – assuming we get around to establishing some benchmarks from which to calculate.

It has been sold to farmers as their primary contribution to environmental improvement. It won’t be. Watershed-based source water protection will supersede with a profoundly different approach while municipal bylaws won’t go away. Bylaws adopted for the health and well being of citizens have a different purpose than on-farm nutrient management.

The Act will allow farming’s overall impact on the environment to grow. It accepts livestock without land close by and enables still higher densities and more concentration in at-risk watersheds. In other words it enables more risk for our environment.

I’m a fan of the concept of nutrient management planning. The present regulatory approach is neither practical nor worthwhile.

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Integrated Solutions to Manure Management II can be found at: www.istmm.com/Home.htm.

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