Operations in phosphorus-deficient areas of the province may be allowed to build new barns without anaerobic digesters
Manitoba’s provincial government is taking baby steps toward relaxing its province-wide hog barn building moratorium.
However, whether it will have any real effect for years is a question that Manitoba’s beleaguered hog industry can’t answer.
“It’s on a very, very, very limited scale,” Manitoba Pork Council manager Andrew Dickson said about a proposal to relax regulations in a handful of places to test manure treatment approaches.
“I would have very modest expectations of this.”
Manitoba agriculture minister Ron Kostyshyn told the recent Keystone Agricultural Producers annual convention that his department and Manitoba Conservation are discussing “pilot projects” in which the requirement for any new hog barn to include an anaerobic manure digester would be relaxed.
Instead, a few sites might be allowed to set up alternative manure treatment processes, but only in phosphorus-deficient areas of western Manitoba.
“I think there is an opportunity to go outside the nucleus area (to areas) where we see a deficiency of phosphorus in the soil and an opportunity to place manure in those designated locations,” Kostyshyn told reporters.
“We’re prepared to have further discussions about geographic locations of pilot projects when we talk about alternative solutions beside the anaerobic digester.”
People in the hog industry say an anaerobic digester might add $1 million to the cost of a hog barn, so few feeder barn operators would be able to build one and be economically viable.
Dickson said the pilot projects would likely have to include a multi-cell lagoon system, which operations could prove was separating much of the phosphorus out of the manure liquids.
However, the rules around the proposed pilot projects are still unclear because there have been only preliminary discussions with Manitoba Pork.
The provincial government has long taken a strong stand against allowing new hog barns in Manitoba but has been loosening its stance since Maple Leaf Foods began publicly complaining about declining production, the loss of hundreds of jobs, dangers to the survival of its second shift and concerns about its long-term viability because of a shrinking hog herd in Manitoba.
Dickson said he believes any approved pilot projects in western Manitoba will be required to have a delivery commitment to a Manitoba slaughter plant.
Beyond getting conservation department approval for the possibly proposed projects, farmers will also need to get permits from local municipalities, some of which have tight restrictions against large livestock operations.
“We’re a long ways away from being able to say we’ve relaxed the moratorium,” said Dickson.