Manitoba to axe limits on hog barns

(Dave Bedard photo)

UPDATED, March 20 — Manitoba’s restrictions on hog barn and manure storage construction are set to be shelved by way of an omnibus “red tape reduction” bill.

Provincial Finance Minister Cameron Friesen on Thursday introduced Bill 24 for first reading. Among its 15 proposed amendments to various pieces of legislation, the bill would repeal two sections of the Environment Act dealing with hog operations and winter manure spreading.

The previous NDP government introduced the freeze on new hog barn construction and expansions in certain areas of the province starting in 2006, expanding provincewide in 2011, with the stated aim of reducing phosphorus loading in Lake Winnipeg.

The province’s ban on winter spreading of manure from Nov. 10 to April 10 each year was imposed in 2013, also with the stated aim of reducing phosphorus runoff into waterways.

The province has said it imposed the winter spreading ban because applying nutrients onto frozen or snow-covered soils “results in an increased risk of nutrient runoff” which in waterways “contributes directly to algal blooms in Lake Winnipeg and elsewhere.”

In its press release Thursday, the province said Bill 24 would “remove general prohibitions from the Environment Act for the expansion of hog barns and manure storage facilities.”

Those prohibitions, in section 40.1 of the Act, require a provincial permit before a hog barn or hog manure storage can be built. It also prevents a hog operation from increasing its animal unit capacity.

Permits for new barns or storage would be granted only if the manure would be treated via anaerobic digestion or “another environmentally sound treatment that is similar to or better than anaerobic digestion.”

The province and Manitoba hog producers agreed in 2015 on a pilot project that would allow new barns to be built to certain environmental requirements, such as two-cell manure lagoons and limits on soil phosphorus.

Mike Teillet, manager of sustainable development at Manitoba Pork, said Monday the province’s proposed bill will “eliminate the need for impractical and extremely costly anaerobic digesters to build a pig barn in Manitoba.”

That provision, he said, “essentially stopped barn construction in the province and that is why it was often referred to as a ‘ban’ or ‘moratorium.'”

The digesters also “would have done nothing to protect the environment,” he said — and cutting that requirement is thus “a sound and practical action by the Manitoba government.”

Bill 24, as introduced Thursday, also orders a repeal for section 40.2 of the Act, which covers the winter manure spreading ban. In an “explanatory note” attached to Bill 24, the government describes the prohibition on winter manure spreading as “eliminated.”

However, Manitoba Pork’s Teillet said Monday, the ban’s inclusion in Bill 24 serves only to remove a “redundant” section of the Act that remains part of the province’s Livestock Manure and Mortalities Management Regulation, thus keeping the winter manure spreading ban in effect.

Manitoba Pork, he noted, “has never asked the government to remove the winter spreading ban” and the province’s hog producers remain “committed to environmentally-sound production practices.”

In introducing Bill 24, Friesen said Thursday the status quo “has created unnecessary challenges for both industry and government.”

The bill’s assorted proposals, he said, “were identified as priority actions by both industry leaders and the civil service” and will “reduce the red tape that is creating burdens on business, non-profits, municipalities, private citizens and government officials.” — Network

UPDATE, March 20, 2017: A previous version of this article stated Bill 24 proposed to eliminate Manitoba’s ban on winter manure spreading. The article has been updated to include additional information from Manitoba Pork.

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