Manitoba farmers fear new provincial legislation aimed at protecting Lake Winnipeg is a foot in the door toward controlling commercial fertilizer use in the province.
Bill 46 (the Save Lake Winnipeg Act), introduced June 2 in the legislature, could be used to regulate the amount of fertilizer applied on cropland, not just to prevent hog manure from entering the lake, industry officials suggest.
That would particularly affect canola, Manitoba’s second-largest crop, a heavy user of soil nutrients.
Keystone Agricultural Producers raised the concern last week after meeting with MAFRI Minister Stan Struthers to voice opposition to the bill.
“It opens the door to regulations in the future that could affect anybody, theoretically, not just farmers,” said Doug Chorney, KAP president.
“Who knows what they’ll do to control and manage farmer use of fertilizer.”
Bill 46 takes a three-pronged approach to protecting Lake Winnipeg by controlling the amount of algae-producing phosphorus flowing into it. Besides keeping pig manure out of the lake, the bill requires the City of Winnipeg to upgrade its sewage treatment system. It also enables steps to preserve wetlands.
The measures aim at reducing the amount of phosphorus entering Lake Winnipeg by 50 per cent, as recently recommended by a commissioned study for the province.
Chorney said KAP is upset that the province has “singled out” the beleaguered hog sector as a main culprit for Lake Winnipeg’s water quality problems.
But he worried Bill 46 could go eventually much further than just restricting hog manure.
Since the bill gives the province the power to regulate soil nutrients, it could be expanded to include synthetic fertilizer, said Chorney.
Bill Ross, Manitoba Canola Growers Association executive manager, said his producers began worrying about fertilizer restrictions in 2008 when Bill 17 banned hog expansions in key parts of the province.
Bill 46 goes further. It outlaws new and expanded operations anywhere in Manitoba without advanced environmental practices. It also legislates a permanent ban on winter spreading of manure, which is scheduled to take effect Nov. 10, 2013 anyway.
Ross said canola growers feel if the province can legally crack down on nutrients in hog manure, it could do the same to commercial fertilizer. “We’ve always been concerned that crops would be next.”
Canola is a heavy user of nitrogen, sulphur and phosphorus, especially the third one. Agronomists say canola absorbs more phosphorus than can be safely applied with the seed. Canola growers sometimes deliberately overfertilize cereal crops so that when canola comes up in the rotation, there’s a nutrient reserve ready for it.
If the government started regulating fertilizer applications, it could seriously affect producers’ ability to farm, said Chorney.
“It gets really complex when government starts regulating, at the farm level, everything that a farmer does. That’s our concern, that it’s going to become a really difficult environment to operate in.”
Provincial regulations already prevent farmers from applying commercial fertilizer on fields between Nov. 10 and April 10. The measure, which previously applied only to livestock manure, was expanded to include fertilizer this past winter.
A June 2 government news release announcing the Lake Winnipeg initiative said the province will review “additional measures towards meeting the 50 per cent phosphorus reduction target.” One of them could be “reviewing impacts of measures focused on eliminating runoff from commercial fertilizer applications.”
KAP held a June 6 summit meeting of commodity group members to plan a lobbying strategy against Bill 46. Chorney said groups will express concerns about the bill during legislative hearings expected this week.
Chorney stressed Manitoba producers are not against protecting Lake Winnipeg but they feel unfairly targeted.
“They’ve sort of made farmers guilty until proven innocent.” [email protected]
– BILL ROSS,MCGA