CHESTERVILLE - Draft regulations released under the Nutrient Management Act are destined for failure as currently written because many farmers will simply balk at their complexity, says a member of the Ontario Farm Environmental Coalition.
"Itís horribly complicated at present," Gordon Garlough told The AgriNews. Garlough has sat on the Ontario Farm Environmental Coalition for the past four years, a provincial consultative body that was actively looking into agricultural nutrient management issues until it was overshadowed by the Walkerton disaster in 2000.
Garlough described the detailed paperwork required of farmers under the draft regulations, including detailed maps of every field, as "incredibly stupid."
"What really matters is that farmers pencil out their manure production and compare it with their soil, fertilizer and crop needs. To me, thatís what everybody should be aiming for," he said, adding the extra "details, details, details" required by the draft regs amounted to "busy work" for farmers with no practical use in reducing manure run-off.
He doesnít believe the regulations will actually be ready by next spring, either, when they are scheduled to begin taking effect, and says he is not alone in that feeling. "Senior bureaucrats would tell you exactly the same thing privately."
The politicians took over in the wake of Walkerton and are "just determined that this thing is going to go," he said. The Ontario Farm Environmental Coalition, involving OFA, the Christian Farmers of Ontario, livestock groups and government officials, subsequently came to a standstill, even though it was a "truly" consultative process, according to Garlough. "Everything just went dead," he said. "Nobody wanted to commit themselves to anything."
"The bureaucrats are really hog-tied. The politicians want what they want, but they donít know what theyíre asking for."
Garlough has applied to be one of the speakers at Eastern Ontarioís first consultative session, under stage one of a three-stage consultative process coinciding with the release of draft regulations. Ontarioís Environment and Energy Minister, Chris Stockwell, will preside over the October 11 meeting in the gymnasium at the W.B. George Centre building at Kemptville College. The session runs from 10 a.m until noon - inadequate time to hear from enough people, Garlough charges, as presenters can take up to 15 minutes each.
Derek Nelson, communications officer at the office of Ontario Agriculture and Food Minister Helen Johns, said another Eastern Ontario session is planned in North Bay before the end of October, also chaired by Minister Stockwell.
Minister Johns chaired stage two meetings in Western Ontario, but is expected to perform the task at stage two meetings that will be held in Eastern Ontario this winter. (The two ministries, OMAF and MOE, share jurisdiction over Bill 81.)
Regulations released under Stage two will deal with municipal issues.
Nelson reflected the uncertainty surrounding the final form of the regulations. He could not say what regulations would be imposed in common on all Ontario farmers starting next spring because the regulations wonít be finalized until after the consultations.
"Yes, there will be certain regulations that apply across the board, but thatís not decided."
For the same reason, he couldnít offer a statement on how the Ontario regs will stack up with other jurisdictions in North America - whether they will be the toughest, for instance. "We canít tell yet," he said.
The expense faced by farmers in complying with the regulations is also an open question. One study has estimated compliance costs at $20,000-$50,000 per farmer.
The Nutrient Unit
Passed into law last June, the Nutrient Management Act will impose a whole new language of bureaucratese on farmers - for instance, the NU (Nutrient Unit), the NMP (Nutrient Management Plan), the NMS (Nutrient Management Strategy), NMAN (Nutrient Management software owned by OMAF) and the Manure Broker.
By next spring, if the regulations released to date go ahead as constituted, every farmer will have to register and identify his operation on a special Farm Unit Declaration Form. From there, the farm will be slotted into one of four NU categories based on the number Nutrient Units the farm is calculated to have. This figure takes into account the amount of animal manure produced on the farm, based on the number and type of animals, as well as manure and biosolids originating from elsewhere that is brought to the farm.
The Nutrient Unit is said to be fairer than Animal Unit and Livestock Unit designations that have been used to describe the size of farms in some jurisdictions for the past 30 years.
The Nutrient Unitís official definition is: The number of animals housed or pastured at one time that produce enough manure to fertilize the same area of crop landbase under most limiting conditions of either nitrogen or phosphorous, as determined using OMAFís NMAN software.
What it really means is that farmers will determine their NU category by looking at government supplied charts, picking the applicable animal and incoming manure numbers, and totalling them up.
For example, a large-frame dairy cow (1,200-1,400 lbs) is rated at 0.6 animals per NU. Laying hens, by comparison, come in at 150 animals per NU.
A farmer with 40 large dairy cows would therefore have a rating of 67 NUs, based on the animals alone.
But incoming manure must be added to the farmís NU total. If the same farmer with 67 NUs worth of large cows also imports 25 tons of chicken manure (rated at 2.5 tons per NU) from his neighbour in a year, he must add another 10 NUs to the farm total. The operation would therefore have a total NU rating of 79.
The full brunt of the regulations will roll out for the four NU categories at different times. All new and expanding operations must comply next spring, but existing farms wonít be affected until either 2008 (Category I); or 2005 (Categories II & III); or 2004 (Category IV).
A Category I farm comprises less than 30 NUs; Category II is between 30 and 150 NUs; Category III is between 150 and 300 NUs; and Category IV is anything higher.
There is no set number of allowable NUs per acre. Rather each farm unit is treated on a case by case basis, with tailored results based on soil and manure tests and crops being grown.
Farmers who produce an excess of NUs for their particular farm unit can expand their holdings identified on the Farm Unit Declaration Form by renting fields. However, Earl Pollock, a regional OMAF manager told the Dundas Federation of Agriculture in early September that formal land leases might be required, and some farmers in the audience saw that extra bit of legalese as a potential problem.
Nutrient Management Plans
According to the draft regulations, the farmer would have to provide for analysis soil samples every three years for each 25-acre section on the farm, in order to keep the farmís Nutrient Management Plan up to date, Pollock said.
Each farmís NMP would be broad and extensive. Among the requirements are detailed farm site and field plans, contingency plans, and copies of Manure Application Agreements and land leases. Livestock numbers would be part of the package, including animal weights that deviate from the charted standards.
The NMP would also includes information on manure and biosolids usage. The farmer could not spread manure or biosolids not indicated in the NMP. And like the soil, manure would have to be tested every three years for nutrients. Changes in manure composition resulting from modified feed rations would require additional documentation.
Overseen by two ministries
OMAF and the Ministry of Environment of Ontario are sharing turf in applying the new Act.
Pollock told the DFA meeting in Chesterville that approvals, certifications, education, training, and registration will fall under the jurisdiction of OMAF.
He said MOE will handle inspections, incident responses and spills. In other words, the official who actually makes a trip out to the farm is likely to be wearing an MOE uniform.
Concerns about broad enforcement powers granted to the nutrient management officers have already prompted predictions of a court challenge under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The August issue of the Eastern Ontario AgriNews featured a story in which Ottawa lawyer Ron Caza, speaking to a gathering in Embrun, said the officialsí "huge, huge" power would be "undoubtedly" tested under the Charter.
Regulations dealt with under stages one and two are supposed to be in force in March 2003. Stage 3 consultations will begin later in the spring, at an unfixed date, according to Nelson. Stage 3 regulations are supposed to deal with livestock access to waterways, manure haulage and transfer, as well as wash water and dead animal disposal.