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
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.
Integrated Solutions to Manure Management II can be found
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