Fertility and Nutrients
Nutrient management plan is a positive development
Prairie provinces proactive.
November 20, 2007 By Ralph Pearce
Many livestock producers on the prairies are adopting nutrient management plans.
Much of the credit is due to provincial authorities who worked with producers
to promote nutrient management as a benefit to a farm's bottom line. Although
each province has different legislation and specifications under which manure
is applied, the overall approach has been proactive, with higher producer participation
and greater benefits to sustainable farming.
The province has seen large growth in its livestock sector, but has been able
to expand without the challenge of living with a migration of urbanites to rural
areas, as is occurring in Ontario's agricultural heartland. "In Manitoba,
we've had the good fortune that the hog expansion has been a relatively recent
thing," says Al Beck, manager of the Environmental Livestock Program with
Manitoba Conservation in Winnipeg. "Producers have invested significant
capital and because they're early in their business development, they can afford
these things rather than trying to retrofit smaller, older operations."
As the livestock industry has grown in the province, legislation covering nutrient
management plans has been in place for much of that same period, since 1998.
The Livestock Manure and Mortalities Management Regulation requires operations
with 300 or more animal units to file a manure management plan or register a
plan annually with the province. "It identifies the operation, where it's
located, the number and type of livestock, the manure storage system, volume
of manure to be spread, how and where it's to be spread, and the strength of
the manure in terms of nitrogen content," explains Beck, adding that field
audits are also conducted as part of the annual filing.
Soil test results are required prior to spreading manure and the producer must
identify the crop he intends to grow in that field. "We require now that
if you're a consultant or third party, and preparing manure management plans
on behalf of the farmer, you have to be qualified, meaning you're a professional
agrologist or certified crop advisor," says Beck.
Despite any perception that Manitoba's is a stringent system, the adoption
of the plan indicates otherwise. "Producers, especially in the pork sector,
see this as helpful to the expansion of the industry," says Beck, noting
uptake has been reasonably good from the dairy and poultry sectors.
On the documentation side, he concedes there was an initial reluctance to do
more paperwork. But most have realized it was just a matter of documenting what
they had been doing for years. "A lot of producers were soil sampling already,
anyway," recalls Beck. "And that was the step some of our people had
to take and some found it difficult to accept, but they did conform."
Where Manitoba's hog sector has driven much of the concern for nutrient management
legislation, the focus in Saskatchewan has been on management within the soil.
Saskatchewan farmers are generally known as conservative users of inputs, according
to Ken Panchuk, provincial soils specialist with Saskatchewan Agriculture and
Food, in Regina.
The province's Agricultural Operations Act (AOA) was formalized in 1995 and
implemented late in 1996. Saskatchewan has had legislation for intensive livestock
operations since 1971. Prior to the AOA, nutrient management plans were based
on a rule of thumb. With the AOA, nutrient management plans give producers 10
years to adopt the regulations, which includes applications of manure nutrients
at agronomic rates to better-match nutrients to specific crop needs. It also
encourages both manure nutrient testing and soil testing.
Another advancement is the widespread adoption of liquid manure injection.
In Saskatchewan, the focus has been on adopting Best Management Practices (BMPs),
which are part of the federal Agricultural Policy Framework's Environmental
Chapter. These BMPs are part of the Canada-Saskatchewan Farm Stewardship Program
under the APF.
The same move is taking place across the country as a means of encouraging
on-farm plans and accessing matching money. But there are additional BMPs further
relating to preserving nutrients. "The issue is to not allow these nutrients
to move into the environment, the air and the water," says Panchuk, adding
there is also a BMP for manure application. "Much of Saskatchewan's farmland
is under reduced-tillage and zero-tillage, so we've been focussed on low disturbance
liquid manure application as well. Almost all of the manure is injected as opposed
to surface applied."
With beef cattle, the only practical way of applying raw manure is broadcast
application. Composting helps cut down on the amount of material hauled.
The other key to Saskatchewan's legislation is a geologic evaluation of the
location of the livestock operation, to ensure water resources will not be impacted
by site development, specifically by manure storage. Decisions under legislation
are not based on separation distances or the potential for odour. Despite the
perception of 'wide open spaces' in the province, there are still concerns regarding
odour. With the help of research and industry input, solutions are being developed.
"We've been quite innovative in moving to a way we can inject liquid manure
quickly, easily, efficiently and cure a lot of problems like odour and nutrient
loss," explains Panchuk. "It's always been a resource, which is why
injection is encouraged, because it's a waste to see the loss of nutrients."
Overall, Saskatchewan benefits from various research organizations, agencies
and industry partners based in the province, working to enhance nutrient management
strategies and develop equipment that help reach their goals. The Prairie Agricultural
Machinery Institute's Humboldt facility, in co-operation with the University
of Saskatchewan, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and industry partners, has
worked on new machinery designs to improve efficiency in application and preserving
manure nutrients. The Prairie Swine Research Centre near Saskatoon is studying
components of improved manure management.
Like Manitoba and Saskatchewan, Alberta extension personnel are working to promote
manure management as a means of improving a farm's bottom line. Whether a producer
hires a consultant or is doing it himself, the push is on for voluntary plan
development. "We defined the nutrient management plan with industry, various
government agencies and with the Canada-Alberta farm program, so we have a defined
plan which addresses nutrient management on a field-by-field basis," says
Trevor Wallace, nutrient management specialist for Alberta Agriculture Food
and Rural Development, in Red Deer.
Wallace reports that under current legislation, nutrient management plans come
into effect under two scenarios. One is in the case of a livestock farm being
established with a land-base smaller than required for the proposed number of
animals. The second relates to the salinity level – electrical conductivity
(EC) – of the soil. "You can't apply manure onto soils with an electrical
conductivity of greater than four deciSiemens per metre, except if you have
a plan that shows the legislative body why you're doing it and what you're hoping
to gain," says Wallace, noting that research is investigating the application
of high manure levels in soils with low EC values. "But if we're using
it to establish a forage crop to re-mediate the area, you need some of those
soil-building properties in manure to get the crop going, in order to reduce
the water content of the soil and hopefully reduce the up-flow of salts in the
If there is a sense of urgency in Alberta, it is trying to convince growers
that nutrient management plans are a benefit beyond cost savings and to do them
now, before producers lose the freedom to choose. "You can either put $1000
worth of fertilizer on that field in the form of manure and waste most of it,
or you can put $300 worth of manure down, supply what your crop needs, then
put the remaining manure on two more fields and save yourself $600 to $700,"
reasons Wallace. "Even if transportation costs reduce the savings to $450,
it is still a savings." -30-