Man. adds limits on hog barns, eyes farm buyouts

Limits on expansion in Manitoba’s hog industry, again meant to reduce phosphorus levels in Lake Winnipeg, will now include a requirement for “advanced environmental practices” on farms before new barns can be built.

Reversing nutrient loading in the lake now also finds the province considering buyouts of farmers in flood-prone areas as part of a surface water management strategy.

The provincial government on Thursday declared “keeping hog manure out of the lake” as one of three key areas in a new strategy aimed at reducing phosphorus levels by 50 per cent, thus cutting algae overgrowth and returning the lake to “a pre-1990 state.”

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That piece of the province’s new Lake Winnipeg strategy will also include a new tax credit to help farmers invest in “new environmental technologies to treat manure responsibly.”

The province said Thursday it will also now double funding for on-farm “best environmental management practices that protect water.”

The plan also pledges, again, to legislate a permanent ban winter spreading of manure on cropland. The province in 2009 called for such a ban, to take full effect in 2013.

“Allowing the hog industry to expand without limit would put our rivers and lakes at risk,” University of Alberta ecology professor David Schindler said in Thursday’s release.

“If hog operations can’t control their manure effectively, they should not be allowed to expand. Similarly, care must be taken to ensure that run-off of synthetic fertilizers does not reach the lake.”

The plan’s other two prongs call for modernization of sewage treatment in the province, particularly in Winnipeg, and for protection of wetlands.

Those parts of the plan call for the City of Winnipeg to replace its North End Sewage Treatment Plant with a full biological nutrient removal (BNR) plant.

The plan also calls for “restoring natural filters” such as the Netley-Libau Marsh near the south end of Lake Winnipeg, by investing in projects such as cattail harvesting and rebuilding the marsh through “innovative pilot projects.”

The province’s plan also calls for it to put “new powers” in place to protect wetlands on Crown land, and to ban “rapid expansion” of peat extraction from Manitoba wetlands.

Incentives

The province on Thursday also cited “water-quality experts” as having recommended additional measures toward meeting its 50 per cent phosphorous reduction target.

To that end, the province on Thursday said it plans to meet with farmer groups and stakeholders “to find ways to cut phosphorus” such as lowering application rates of manure on land; restricting fall application of manure to avoid runoff; requiring manure to be injected or incorporated into soil to prevent runoff; and “reviewing impacts of measures” focused on eliminating runoff from commercial fertilizer applications.

The province plans also to meet with watershed stakeholders to come up with a “surface water management strategy” which it said could include incentives for landowners to retain wetlands and store water.

Possibilities under such a plan may also include “buyouts for producers in marginal flood-prone areas,” the province said, as well as drainage and infrastructure planning, wetland restoration and shoreline and riparian area protection.

“Tipping point”

Premier Greg Selinger released the province’s Lake Winnipeg strategy after receiving a report Tuesday that it commissioned from Dr. Peter Leavitt, in which the University of Regina biologist recommended the 50 per cent cut in phosphorus levels.

“Phosphorous levels in the lake are now worse than they were in Lake Erie when people were describing that lake as dead,” Leavitt said of the results of his five-year study in a separate release Tuesday.

“We’re at a tipping point and if something isn’t done now, the consequences will be dire.”

The Manitoba Pork Council had no official comment Thursday afternoon on the province’s announcement.

The province’s stated plans follow a previous round of limits on hog production in 2008, stemming from a provincial Clean Environment Commission report on environmental sustainability in the hog sector.

Since then, the province put a permanent ban on expansion of hog farming in areas near Lake Winnipeg and the Red River, introduced new buffer zones to protect water from phosphorus application, and offered farmers incentives to protect wetlands and riparian areas.

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