Manitoba’s minister of agriculture has indicated the province may be prepared to ease some restrictions around new hog barn construction in certain circumstances.
Speaking to reporters at a Keystone Agricultural Producers meeting in Winnipeg last month, Ron Kostyshyn said that alternative technologies could replace the anaerobic digesters now required for new barns in some phosphorus-deficient areas of the province.
That possibility was confirmed last week by Andrew Dickson, general manager of the Manitoba Pork Council.
“Currently, in the legislation… anaerobic digesters are a requirement for new barn development, but I think they’re prepared to accept the concept of multi-cell systems as an alternative method of dealing with the nutrient load in manure,” said Dickson, speaking at the annual Manitoba Swine Seminar.
However, use of multi-cell systems would be limited to geographic areas with low phosphorus concentrations. Kostyshyn characterized these areas as being outside the “nucleus” of existing intensive livestock operations.
“They want them in some proximity with the processing plants in the province,” Dickson explained. “In the geographic sense that is probably western Manitoba, but it’s a little vague. So I’m starting by defining that as west of the Red River.”
Kostyshyn said new hog barns using the multi-cell system will have to be pre-approved as pilot projects if the plan moves ahead. Although what that process will look like and how many of these multi-cell manure-treatment installations might be allowed has not yet been determined.
“There’s a lot of details to be sorted out, we’re not sure how many sites we might be able to get going, but it’s going to be more than one,” Dickson said. “We’re going to be looking for co-operative municipalities, we’re going to be looking for producers who are prepared to invest in these barns and I think there’s going to have to be some relationship between these barns and the processing capacity in the province.”
Kostyshyn also cited increasing the number of hogs available to processors as part of the rationale for the departure from the province’s stance on anaerobic digesters.
“It’s a start, but there is a very significant shortfall in our finished pig capacity in the province,” said Dickson. “We just don’t have enough barns to provide enough finished pigs to the processing plants so they can be as efficient as their U.S. counterparts.”
He added it would take a considerable number of new barns to produce the number of hogs processors are looking for. Whether a pilot program could deliver enough additional hogs remains to be seen, Dickson said.
He noted that all major federal processors have also been involved in discussions around the pilot project proposal.
“We keep improving on the regulations, in partnership with Manitoba Pork, and I think we’ve come to a consensus that we’re addressing the one situation from both sides,” said Kostyshyn, noting Manitoba still has the highest level of environmental regulation of any province when it comes to hog production.
Manitoba Pork has opposed the anaerobic digester requirement since it was introduced, citing installation costs of up to $1 million.
Dickson said the move by the province is a step in the right direction, albeit a small one.
“There is still a very long ways to go,” he said, adding this change by no means marks the end of the moratorium.
Kostyshyn stressed that discussions will continue.