Understanding and Resolving Nutrient Management Concerns and Complaints
Table of Contents
Rural communities are the home of Ontario's thriving and dynamic agricultural industry. As it is with operations in any industry, be it an automotive plant or a shopping complex - agricultural operations may give rise to loud noises, unpleasant odours and lots of hustle and bustle associated with the business at hand.
This Factsheet will:
Over the last 50 years, the public has come to expect high-quality food at low prices from the agricultural industry. Technology advances and market forces have led many farmers to expand the scale of their operations. Some members of the public have expressed concerns about the increased size of livestock operations in particular and have adopted the term "factory farm" to describe high-density or intensive livestock operations. Meanwhile, changing demographics have resulted in an increase of non-farming residents in rural areas.
"Nutrient management concerns" and "nuisance concerns" are two very different concerns relating to practices involving the storage, transfer or application of nutrients. Not surprisingly, each type of concern requires a distinct course of action.
A nutrient management concern is generally a practice that is contrary to a public law and can involve either agricultural or non-agricultural source material. Generally, these concerns deal with practices that may put the public or the environment at risk. Examples of nutrient management concerns might include improper disposal of manure near or into a watercourse, contamination of groundwater due to faulty manure storage facilities or the application of nutrients to the land at rates much beyond what is required by a crop. These types of nutrient practices could be a violation of various provincial and federal laws, including:
A nuisance concern generally involves a practice that is "normal" or acceptable in the context of a farm but may be an annoyance or inconvenience to an individual. Nuisance concerns do not violate any legislation. They often arise due to a misunderstanding of the intent of a practice or as a result of a breakdown in communication between involved parties. The majority of nuisance concerns arise because of odours at the time of manure application.
Figure 1. Puddling after a manure application.
OMAFRA operates the Agricultural Information Contact Centre, which has a toll-free phone number and an e-mail address where resource agents answer questions about agricultural practices in general, as well as practices related specifically to nutrient management:
Learning from what others have asked
Some of the calls received are about nuisance complaints. The following is a list of frequently asked questions relating to nuisance complaints and typical responses to them:
There are three steps to follow when deciding what to do about a nutrient management or nuisance concern:
Understand the Issue
If you are not familiar with what is "normal" when it comes to farming practices relating to nutrients, there are many resources available that can help you become informed.
The Nutrient Management Act
The Nutrient Management Act, 2002, and its Regulation, O.Reg. 267/03, govern many aspects of nutrient management. There are regulatory requirements and protocols pertaining to nutrient storage, transfer or application practices. These include regulations for nutrient application rates and timing, nutrient setback distances, temporary in-field storage and more.
The NMA requires some producers to have Nutrient Management Strategies (NMSs) and/or nutrient Management Plans (NMPs). Currently, not all producers are required to have an NMS/P. However, best management practices suggest that all farmers who generate or land-apply nutrients should have some form of plan or strategy in place. For more information on the requirements of the Regulation regarding nutrient management strategies and plans, follow the links to the Nutrient Management section on the OMAFRA website.
Best Management Practices (BMPs) Publications
A series of publications called "Best Management Practices" (BMPs) is available through OMAFRA. These comprehensive publications describe a number of practical and affordable approaches to conserving a farm's soil, water and nutrient resources without sacrificing productivity. However, it should be emphasized that reasonably safe farming can be done without meeting the high standards of these BMPs. Although farmers are not required to follow these BMPs, many have voluntarily incorporated them into their regular management practices. A list of all the BMP publications can be viewed at the OMAFRA website.
Farming and Food Production Protection Act, 1998
The Farming and Food Production Protection Act, 1998 (FFPPA), is legislation designed to "conserve, protect and encourage the development and improvement of agricultural lands for the production of food, fibre and other agricultural or horticultural products." In it, "normal" farming and food production procedures are outlined. For more information, see the OMAFRA Factsheet, Farming and Food Production Protection Act and Nuisance Complaints.
Communicate With Others
Perhaps one of the most important steps in addressing a concern is to talk to the farmer. Speaking with the individual could give you a different perspective as to why or how frequently a particular practice occurs. Also, the farmer may not have been aware that these activities were a source of concern and may be able to do something about it. For instance, if you are planning an outdoor party for the same weekend a farmer is planning to apply manure to the field next to your house, let the farmer know. The farmer may be able to delay application until after the party. If you are reasonable with your requests and questions about the concern, there is a better chance the outcome will be favourable for both parties. On the other hand, if your concern is about a spill or other serious occurrence, the farmer may have already notified the appropriate agencies and may appreciate an extra pair of hands to help with the clean-up.
Consider What Steps to Take
Unfortunately, there are some situations that cannot be resolved without external involvement - whether the situation is because of a nuisance concern or a nutrient concern. Where you have reason to suspect a spill, call the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change Spills Action Centre at 1-800-268-6060. Alternately, where there is no imminent environmental risk, call the Agricultural Information Contact Centre. They will direct your call to the appropriate person or agency. When making a complaint, people are asked to provide their name and telephone number. Anonymous calls will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.
Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change Provincial Officers
If an incident is suspected of being a spill or violation of legislation, it will be transferred to the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change where a Provincial Officer will administer compliance.
Local Advisory Committees and the NMA
If an incident is not suspected of being a spill or violation of legislation, it may be referred to the Local Advisory Committee (LAC) for the municipality in question. An LAC is a committee that gives farmers and other community members an opportunity to resolve problems or disputes relating to nutrient management issues at a local level. Its main role is to provide mediation between involved parties in order to reach a solution. Not all municipalities currently have an LAC, but the NMA provides a model by which new LACs can be formed. Talk to your local municipality about establishing an LAC in your area if one doesn't exist already. For more information on LACs, see the Local Advisory Committee Protocol in the Nutrient Management Act, 2002.
Normal Farm Practices Protection Board (NFPPB)
If a solution cannot be reached through the LAC, the complainant may request a hearing at the NFPPB. The board will listen to the case to determine whether the complaint is about a normal farm practice. For more information on the NFPPB, see the OMAFRA Factsheet Farming and Food Protection Act and Nuisance Complaints.
If there is a concern about a nutrient management practice, take the time to determine what follow-up action is required. Get educated about the issue and talk to the farmer involved. If the concern still persists after taking these steps, consider taking further action. Being able to arrive at a solution on a one-on-one basis is the best way to establish and maintain good neighbourly relations.
For more information:
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