Just off the Trans-Canada, about eight miles east of Carberry, there’s a small, black gully.
Recently it was dry.
According to Donna and Peter Pingert, who together run a cattle feedlot surrounded by windbreak fences underneath a tall blue silo further up the gently sloping hill, the gully runs for about three days every spring as the snow melts.
The water goes under the four-lane highway and ends up in a narrow swamp filled with beavers and surrounded by spruce and poplar trees on the other side.
If you blink while passing through at 100 km per hour, you’ll miss it.
Unfortunately for the Pingerts, and Donna’s father Frank Anderson, who is a co-owner of the half-section of land on which their operation is based, sharp-eyed officials from Manitoba Conservation didn’t.
The Pingerts have been charged four times over the run-off since a director’s order was first issued in July of 2004.
Donna said that she has entered guilty pleas twice. The first time, she was fined $250. The last time, she ended up paying $7,500 in fines and legal fees.
They went to court on April 8 to face the latest and fourth charge, under Section 11 of the Livestock Manure and Mortalities Management Regulation, which forbids the discharge or release of manure “into surface water, a surface watercourse or groundwater.”
They requested more time to prepare, and the case was remanded to May 20.
“The crown attorney said today that we have too many cattle in too small an area,” said Donna. “I said 500 head?”
The Pingerts, who have fed cattle on the site since the 1970s, used to feed about 1,200 animals pre-BSE. Since then, they have cut back to about 500 head. They used to get paid for disposing of high-starch potato waste from the McCain plant in nearby Carberry, but since 2008 they have had to pay for the trucking.
The cheap feed helps them stay profitable, and Peter said that it probably saved them from going broke when BSE hit in 2003.
“We tried to work with them from the beginning, but we found out that it just wouldn’t work,” said Donna, who is determined not to give up and close the feedlot.
“Everything we did our way wasn’t good enough because it didn’t cost $10 million,” added Peter.
Their efforts to comply in 2004 by building a catchment basin ended up in vain, mainly because their work proposal didn’t have an engineer’s stamp, which they couldn’t afford.
“They said, ‘You didn’t have GPS. You didn’t have a third party. It wasn’t an independent study,’” said Donna.
She priced out the cost of having contractors come and develop a proposal for stopping the runoff, and estimates were $6,000 just for soil and water tests and putting a plan on paper. Actually moving dirt would end up costing much more, she said.
The Pingerts wonder why they are being targeted. Their well is 85 feet deep, so they figure that there is virtually no risk of groundwater contamination, even on their sandy soil. Also, the run-off goes into a swamp on the other side of the highway, which in their minds, is an effective sink for trapping what little nutrients or pathogens leave the farm during the spring melt.
A few years ago, they moved most of their cattle farther east away from the old pens, except for a few that are ready to be shipped, and planted Canamaize there. The corn, benefiting from the nutrients in the soil, “grew as thick as the hair on a dog’s back,” said Peter.
Then in the spring of 2009, new run-off testing led to the fourth charge. On March 17 of this year, officials came and took new samples, which the Pingerts suspect will be used to press fresh charges against them next year.
“I’m getting tired of fighting with them. You can’t win against the province,” said Peter. “It’s just a vicious circle.”
A provincial government spokesperson said that because the matter is currently before the courts, officials are unable to comment. [email protected]