Manitoba pork producers are bristling over a provincial plan to protect a deteriorating Lake Winnipeg by clamping down on hog manure applications.
Hog farmers say they feel the government is unfairly fingering them as offenders in endangering the health of the lake by polluting it with phosphorus.
“It’s completely unfair to the industry to target and tarnish it like that,” said Karl Kynoch, Manitoba Pork Council chairman.
Kynoch said the hog industry is already heavily regulated and more costly rules governing manure applications are unwelcome.
The province last week announced a three-pronged program to save Lake Winnipeg, following a scientific report demanding a 50 per cent reduction in nutrients flowing into it.
The plan includes increased protection for Manitoba’s wetlands and extensive upgrades to Winnipeg’s sewage treatment system.
But keeping hog manure out of Lake Winnipeg is the central focus of the initiative.
To do so, the province says it will:
Ban hog operation expansions anywhere in Manitoba that do not use “advanced environmental practices to protect water.”
Legislate a permanent ban on winter spreading of manure. Such a ban is already scheduled to take effect in November 2013.
Double funding for best management practices (BMPs) to protect water and introduce new tax credits for on-farm manure treatment systems.
Farmers must meet the new standards to qualify for manure permits in the future, said Premier Greg Selinger.
“The requirements will be part of the licensing process and they’ll ensure that we are using best practices. There will be a higher standard for how we deal with hog waste,” the premier told a June 2 news conference to announce the initiative.
Selinger said all Manitobans must make a “titanic effort” to reduce algae-promoting phosphorus from enter ing Lake Winnipeg and degrading water quality. He made no apologies for singling out hog farms as part of the problem.
“Keeping the lake in good shape is in the interests of all Manitobans, including livestock producers,” he said, noting the province is prepared to assist producers in meeting the new targets.
“We want the industry to be able to function, but we want safe environmental practices,” he said.
Kynoch accused the government of trying to gain political support at the expense of hog farmers.
“There’s an election coming up this fall and they’re trying to get votes,” he said.
“At the end of the day, it’s all about their election and it’s got nothing to do with sound science.”
The government launched its Lake Winnipeg initiative two days after a commissioned report pinned much of the blame for the lake’s problems on agriculture in general and livestock in particular.
The report co-authored by Peter Leavitt, a University of Regina academic, concluded nutrient run-off from farms is responsible for half of the water quality deterioration in the lake since 1900, with livestock manure the biggest culprit.
Leavitt said he arrived at his conclusions after reconstructing the history of water quality in the lake by analyzing mud layers to judge nutrient increases over time.
He also surveyed historical data on climate change and agr icul tural product ion to judge the contribution of each one to water quality changes.
Leavitt concluded water quality was degraded during the 20th century mainly by changes in crop and animal production. Climate alone was responsible for only 20 per cent of the change.
The report said nutri – ent loading in the lake took a sharp turn upwards in the 1990s when the loss of the Crow Rate lowered feed grain prices and spurred more livestock production.
Encouraged by government and the industry, hog production in Manitoba soared, at one point topping nine million pigs a year.
But the resulting hog manure ultimately resulted in more phosphorus entering Lake Winnipeg and endangering one of the world’s largest freshwater bodies, said Leavitt, Canada Research chair in environmental change and society at the University of Regina.
“The loss of the Crow is probably the pin in the grenade that started the whole problem,” he said in an interview after releasing his report May 31.
“It’s fair to say that maybe they didn’t realize how much things might grow and it might have gotten out of hand.”
Leavitt’s conclusion on agriculture’s contribution to phosphorus loading conflicts with the province’s own data in a 2006 report.
The Lake Winnipeg Stewardship Report found that 53 per cent of total phosphorus entering Lake Winnipeg originated from outside the province. Manitoba is responsible for 47 per cent of phosphorus in the lake. Of that, only 15 per cent came from agriculture, with hog farms contributing just a portion.
Don Flaten, a University of Manitoba soil scientist who contributed to the report, called Leavitt’s analysis interesting. But Flaten said it doesn’t show cause and effect between algae blooms in Lake Winnipeg and the rise of livestock production in Manitoba.
“The magnitude of that contribution is the issue that probably is debatable,” he said.
Flaten said most nutri – ents applied to farmland in Manitoba come from synthetic fertilizer, not livestock manure. As for manure, cattle produce more of it in the province than pigs do, he said.
Flaten agreed farmers must do their part in lowering phosphorus run-off. But so should everybody else, he added.
“If everybody in Manitoba could take on that responsibility and that sense of stewardship and reduce their share, that would offer some hope for Lake Winnipeg.”
Doug Chorney, Keystone Agricultural Producers president, expressed dismay that the province did not consult with farmers before announcing its phosphorus reduction strategy.
Chorney said KAP wants a peer review of Leavitt’s study to determine how sound the science in it is.
KAP was scheduled to hold a meeting of its commodity group members this week to discuss a response to the province’s plan. [email protected]
– PREMIER GREG SELINGER