The Manitoba government’s Red Tape Reduction and Government Efficiency Act is a welcome action to allow hog farmers an opportunity to grow.
The previous government had imposed regulations regarding barn construction and manure management that amounted to a moratorium on new barn construction.
The Progressive Conservative government that was elected a year ago has already ended the onerous building code requirements, putting them now on par with agricultural building codes in other provinces.
The red tape cutting legislation that is expected to pass this fall will end costly requirements for anaerobic digester manure treatments that were another nearly insurmountable impediment to hog barn construction.
The restrictions were imposed when the hog industry was unfairly singled out in the early 2000s as a villain in the ecological endangerment of Lake Winnipeg. Excess nutrients in water flowing into the lake led to huge algae blooms that caused oxygen starved dead zones.
An abrupt increase in phosphorus flowing into the lake was identified as a particular problem.
Manitoba’s hog industry had greatly expanded in that same period, and for some the coincidence amounted to cause and effect.
There was scientific evidence in a report by Peter Leavitt of the University of Regina and David Schindler of the University of Alberta, which said hog manure and fertilizers from crop production were major contributors to the lake’s woes.
That report recommended cutting phosphorus flow into the lake by 50 percent and prompted the NDP government to pass the Save Lake Winnipeg Act in 2011, which compounded restrictions on hog barns in place since 2007.
It also required Winnipeg to upgrade its sewage treatment system and protected wetlands.
But other experts, such as Don Flaten, a soil scientist at the University of Manitoba, say the situation is complex and too much focus has been placed on hog manure.
Various studies have noted other contributing factors.
The current wet cycle in the eastern Prairies and much increased flows in the Red River appear linked with the increased nutrient levels in the lake. Fifty-three percent of total phosphorus entering Lake Winnipeg originated from outside the province.
The shift to zero tillage, which slashed soil erosion and reduced nitrogen runoff, unfortunately also increases phosphorus runoff from crop residue. The use of chemical fertilizers also increased, adding to the amount of phosphorus applied to soil.
With so many sources, it was unfair to come down so hard on pig producers.
Manitoba’s hog industry is committed to environmental stewardship. It still faces stringent oversight, and it agrees with a key regulation that will continue: the ban on winter manure spreading.
However, it faces an influential lobby that holds to a simplistic and unfair critique of the industry.
We hope the government is not swayed from its course.
Hog production and pork processing are a major part of Manitoba’s economy, valued at more than a billion dollars and employing more than 16,000 people.
That impact can grow if farmers are set free from unneeded regulation to pursue the opportunities arising from rising global meat demand.