The Manitoba government has begun a new anti-red tape initiative by streamlining the provincial building code for farm structures.
The Manitoba Farm Building Code will be repealed and dovetailed into the Manitoba Building Code, with specific provisions for farm buildings.
It’s the first action in a government campaign to eliminate or simplify regulatory requirements that allegedly stifle economic growth and development.
Agriculture Minister Ralph Eichler announced the measure at the Keystone Agricultural Producers annual meeting last week.
The main beneficiary will be the province’s livestock industry, particularly the hog sector, which has long complained about burdensome regulations imposed on it by the former NDP government.
“They were simply adding paperwork and bureaucracy into a system that’s already overloaded with paperwork and bureaucracy,” said Mike Teillet, Manitoba Pork’s sustainable development manager.
The revised regulations will save producers money in building costs because less material and labour will be needed, Teillet said. Rough preliminary estimates suggest possible savings of two to three per cent on a $2-million hog barn.
However, the new code may increase tension between producers who feel their industry is overregulated and others who think it isn’t regulated enough.
“It looks like it’s more positive for reducing red tape but I think it’s at the expense of safety for the animals that are in these barn settings,” said Aileen White, deputy CEO of the Winnipeg Humane Society.
Teillet said the main problem with the current farm building code, which took effect in 2010, is that it was designed for light industrial buildings and isn’t suitable on farms.
The code applies to buildings over 600 square metres (around 6,500 square feet), which includes most commercial livestock barns. Because the code is light industrial in scope, its requirements include fire stops on load-bearing walls and additional exits and entrances for workers. Both are now eliminated or scaled back.
White expressed concern that fewer fire stops will increase the risk to animals inside the barns when fires break out. Manitoba has seen a number of horrific hog barn fires over the years in which thousands of animals die in rapidly spreading fires.
But Teillet said most hog barns have only a few employees inside at any time, so additional exits are unnecessary. He also said extra fire stops do not control a blaze once it spreads.
“Unless you have someone there to put the fire out, whether or not you have an additional fire stop over and above the ones that are already required anyway, it’s not likely to make much difference.”
Teillet said lessening exit requirements, which include the number of doors, their size and the way they swing, could save as much as $20,000 per building. The elimination of drywall on load-bearing walls could save another $7,000 to $8,000. Also gone is a requirement for a separate pond to supply water for firefighting, which could save between $8,000 and $12,000.
Teillet stressed these are very preliminary figures and haven’t been analyzed yet.
But perhaps the biggest benefit to producers is that the amended code is clearer and easier to follow than the present one, Teillet said. In the past, requirements weren’t always adequately spelled out and disputes sometimes arose between construction crews, engineers and building inspectors.
“We think that this will eliminate some of those issues because we understand the wording is a bit clearer and more appropriate to farm buildings,” Teillet said.
The revised building code suggests an improved relationship between Manitoba Pork and the new Conservative government. Relations between producers and the former NDP regime were frosty at best, especially after a province-wide environmental crackdown on hog barns which virtually shut down new construction.
Teillet said Manitoba Pork is getting signals there may be more changes on the way. One could be easing of a requirement to conduct soil tests before and after every manure application and filing results with Manitoba Sustainable Development. Teillet said some producers have to file more than 1,000 tests a year and then wait for someone from the province to get back to them. Manitoba Pork would like manure applicators to keep all test results and have them available for audit, just like income tax.
Teillet rejected suggestions the new requirements will result in less environmental oversight.
“We’re not talking about loosening up environmental regulations. We’re just talking about bureaucracy here.”
Eichler, interviewed after speaking to the KAP meeting, could not say when the building code changes will come into effect.
“You know, yesterday would have been good, but it’s going to take some time,” he said. “We are still in the process of reaching out to those various commodity groups in order to ensure that we do get it right. I’m hoping within a very short time, the next couple of months, if we can move that quickly.”
– With files from Shannon VanRaes