Doug Chorney, the normally calm, cool and collected president of the Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP), is steaming mad at the Manitoba government for failing to accommodate farmers wanting to apply fertilizer and manure to their fields last week.
“I’m really upset because we were misled and I think it was deliberate,” he said in an interview Nov. 15.
Chorney said KAP is calling for a meeting with Conservation Minister Gordon Mackintosh “where we are going to lay it on the line. I just don’t know how we can work with this government if this is the way they are going to treat farmers. It is just unacceptable.”
Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship regulations prohibit Manitoba farmers from applying fertilizer and manure to fields after Nov. 10 and before April 10.
Earlier this month, KAP asked the government to grant a blanket exemption to farmers so they could continue applying fertilizer and manure on unfrozen fields like it did in March 2012 when spring arrived unusually early.
On Nov. 8, with forecasts for colder weather ahead, Chorney said he agreed with the government’s decision not to grant a blanket exemption on the condition it issue exemptions to farmers on a case-by-case basis. But the government refused to grant those exemptions even though the applicant’s fields weren’t frozen. The high near Miami Nov. 13 was 13 C.
“It’s unacceptable and completely unworkable for farmers to keep using this system because it has proven to be inflexible,” Chorney said. “We just think dates need to be thrown out the window completely. They make no sense for farmers. They’re basically telling farmers they have to break the law in order to run their farms. There’s no scientific or environmental justification for any of this. It’s a complete joke.”
The date system, introduced in 2011, is designed to reduce nutrient run-off from fields into waterways and eventually Lake Winnipeg, which is already polluted with high levels of phosphorus and nitrogen. Nutrients applied to frozen soils are more susceptible to run-off.
Chorney said farmers won’t apply nutrients to frozen land because fertilizer is so expensive.
The Manitoba government no longer uses the calendar for setting truckload limits on Manitoba highways, instead basing restrictions on road conditions. Chorney said the government should do the same with fertilizer.
If the government has to keep the dates it should at least be prepared to implement blanket and/or individual exemptions when conditions allow for it, he said.
It took all day for government officials last week to deny one farmer an exemption, even though his field was not frozen, Chorney said.
“A farmer could get the job done in the time it takes them to look at a piece of paper,” he said.
A lot of Manitoba farmers seeded late this year, delaying their fall work, including fertilizing, Chorney said. In addition, Manitoba farmers are planting more, later-maturing crops such as corn and soybeans. As a result more farmers are working later in the fall.
Ironically, another government department — Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Development — recommends farmers wait to apply nitrogen until soil temperatures cool off because there’s less risk of it being lost into the atmosphere, which adds more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.