Farmers want an exemption

A warm, dry spring has the Manitoba government reconsidering its new nutrient application rules that prevent fertilizer applications before April 10, a provincial official said March 15.

“If the warm weather conditions continue and soils across the province are fully thawed, then the department (Conservation and Water Stewardship) will consider a blanket variation for all producers,” an official said in an email.

Keystone Agricultural Producers’ (KAP) president Doug Chorney requested an emergency meeting March 19 with Conservation and Water Stewardship Minister Gord Mackintosh and Agriculture Minister Ron Kostyshyn to seek a general exemption.

He said many farmers are already spreading fertilizer, many unaware that it is now illegal to apply nutrients, including manure, after Nov. 10 or before April 10. Normally that’s when Manitoba fields are frozen. Nutrients applied on frozen soil are more vulnerable to run-off potentially contributing to water pollution and nutrient loading in Lake Winnipeg.

“The department has received several requests for a variation this year and these requests are currently being processed,” the official said.

Chorney’s phone was ringing off the hook last week as farmers called to complain about the restriction. While the calendar says mid-March, record-smashing temperatures on the heels of a much warmer- and drier-than-normal winter are more akin to mid-May. As a result farmers want to spread fertilizer on forage, pasture, winter wheat and even fields to be seeded later this spring, Chorney said in an interview.

Farmers can seek a variance by applying to Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship, but that’s not practical when hundreds, or perhaps even thousands, of farmers will want one, Chorney said.

“I would hope that common sense would prevail,” he said.

“I’m all for the responsible application of nutrients. Farmers don’t want to waste fertilizer. It’s the most expensive variable cost we have.”

Not only does KAP want a province-wide variance, it wants fixed dates prohibiting nutrient application replaced with rules tied to what’s happening in the field. Manitoba Infrastructure and Transportation used to have fixed dates for road weight restrictions, but now apply them when conditions warrant, Chorney said. The same should apply with nutrient applications, he said.

Argyle farmer Alfred Billingham suggests allowing fertilizer applications to begin when road restrictions are applied. Restrictions, which this year came on March 13, took effect when roads became soft. If the frost is out of the roads, it’s out of the fields too, he said.

Billingham said he was surprised and angry when he learned of the April 10 restriction from his local fertilizer supplier last week. He wanted the firm to apply Edge and fertilizer this week on a quarter section being seeded to sunflowers this spring.

“My only reason for wanting to move now is moisture,” Billingham said in an interview. “If I can get on that field, I have to work it twice to get the Edge to work. And every time you work a field you lose about a half to an inch of moisture off the top of it. My thought is the sooner I get in the sooner I might get it replenished by a rain.”

Billingham contacted Conservation for a variance but was told he needed a soil test first.

Although Billingham wasn’t aware of the April 10 restriction, he knew about the Nov. 10 deadline. Ironically, he wanted to apply Edge and fertilizer last fall, but couldn’t because it was after Nov. 10.

“I just think there’s far too much bureaucracy being introduced to farming,” Billingham said.

“It’s just making farming complicated and spoiling the fun.”

Although being able to do field work in March is an anomaly, applying fertilizer and even seeding before April 10 isn’t unheard of for Billingham. “I’ve found early seeding works well for me,” he said.

Chorney said he’s never seen such an early spring.

“This is really bizarre,” he said.

“If we have winter wheat, and timothy seed fields and ryegrass fields breaking dormancy, we have to respond to that and assume we’re going to have precip through the season and will grow a crop, but we have to put the fertilizer on for that to happen.”

Farmers also need to be aware there are regulations capping how much residual nitrogen they are allowed in their fields. The restrictions are 30, 90 and 140 pounds an acre in the case of land in Nutrient Management Zone N3, N2 and N1, respectively. The amount allowed is based on the productive capacity of the soil with the lowest residual for the least productive land.

Farmers requesting an application variance can contact Manitoba Conservation at 1-800-282-8069 (extension 0585 or 7096) or email [email protected]

Farmers must provide the following information:

  • Name, mailing address, telephone number and email address (if available) of the owner or occupier (if different).
  • Include the legal land description(s) indicating where nutrients will be applied.
  • Reason/justification for the application of nitrogen and/or phosphorus fertilizer (including type of product(s) to be used, method of application(s) and crop to be grown).
  • Proposed application rate(s) for nitrogen and/or phosphorus fertilizer.
  • Proposed application date(s).
  • A copy of recent soil test report(s) for the area(s) where nutrients are proposed to be applied. Soil samples should be representative of the area being fertilized. The following sampling depths shall be employed: 15 (zero to six inches) for Olsen phosphorus and 60 cm (zero to 24 inches) for nitrate-N.

About the author

Reporter

Allan Dawson

Allan Dawson is a reporter with the Manitoba Co-operator based near Miami, Man. Covering agriculture since 1980, Dawson has spent most of his career with the Co-operator except for several years with Farmers’ Independent Weekly and before that a Morden-Winkler area radio station.

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