Concerns are mounting about agriculture’s affect on air quality and odour, and the industry needs to be paying careful attention, according to a provincial specialist on livestock and the environment.
The province has received more than 6,000 complaints over the past eight years about livestock operations, either because of the odour they cause or because of concerns they are affecting air quality, Karen Yakimishyn told the recent Manure Management Update Conference in Lethbridge.
“It is important to remember the difference between the two as the industry is increasingly faced with discussing both issues,” said Yakimishyn, the province’s livestock environment engineer.
Air quality is a health issue, and so the focus is on “substances of concern,” which are harmful to humans, animals or the environment. These include ammonia, hydrogen sulphide, odour, particulate matter, pathogens and volatile organic compounds. Odour is part of air quality but it is considered more of a nuisance, mostly social, issue rather than a health issue.
“Of the complaints received, 62 per cent have been odour and nuisance related,” she noted.
Odour issues are very complicated, Yakimishyn said. Odour sources, odour dispersion, and human response to odour can vary greatly depending on a wide range of factors.
To help the industry get a better handle on the situation, the province is analysing the complaints and looking to see what solutions for odour issues have been successful, and what hasn’t worked.
Since the 2002 passage of the Agricultural Operation Practices Act, the Natural Resource Conservation Board has been responsible for both issuing permits for confined feeding operations, and ensuring they are in compliance with their permits and provincial regulations. The latter is triggered by complaints and more than 6,000 calls about 571 operations have been made to the board’s toll-free complaint line. The vast majority of those operations were the subject of just a handful of complaints but 36 received numerous complaints.
It’s hoped an analysis of the complaints will provide some clarity on what issues are prompting them and help industry find practical solutions to minimize problems, Yakimishyn said.
A good way to start is by being a good neighbour, provincial nutrient management specialist Ike Edeogu told attendees.
“Social considerations, such as fostering good relations with neighbours, can also play a significant role,” he said.
There are a host of beneficial management practices, or BMPs, that producers can employ. Among the best are shelterbelts, permeable manure storage covers such as straw covers, dust palliatives, frequent manure removal, manure injection or surface application with immediate incorporation, bottom-loading manure storage facilities and manure moisture management. Choosing which ones to implement is a matter of cost, practicality, how well they work in certain situations, and whether there are cobenefits, said Edeogu.
Some jurisdictions within and outside Canada are now setting limits on the amounts of substances of concern that an agricultural operation may emit in a year, he said. In this context, a beneficial management practice is defined as one that either reduces or eliminates an undesirable environmental risk or its associated health, social or economic risks.
At least 40 technology-based BMPs have been reported to mitigate the undesirable effects of various substances of concern emitted into the air from agricultural operations, Edeogu said.
Still, building good relations with neighbours may be the most cost-effective solution, he said.
For instance, that may mean keeping neighbours informed about certain production practices that might have an undesirable impact on them. This may include letting them know when a particular activity is scheduled to occur and how long that activity might last. Another option is to reschedule activities such as manure application until favourable conditions exist, such as waiting for a change in wind direction. It can also help to have supply trucks slow down on unpaved roads to reduce dust instead of spending money on dust palliatives.