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Grow Ontario Together
What is nutrient management?
Nutrient management for livestock farms is a science-based approach to managing and effectively utilizing manure as a crop nutrient. Nutrient management in Ontario is based on the “4R Nutrient Stewardship” principles of right source, right rate, right time and right plan. Ontario regulatory standards ensure that all new and expanding livestock farms that require a building permit have enough manure storage capacity, as well as effective runoff management systems. Every individual farm has customized nutrient management that addresses their specific circumstances, but principles of nutrient management are always centered on ensuring that the nutrients generated and utilized on a farm (both manure and fertilizer) are properly stored until it’s the right time to apply them on the fields, and then applied in a manner that minimizes any potential risk of runoff.
What is happening in Ontario?
Ontario has been a leader in the responsible use and management of manure nutrients. The province’s Nutrient Management Act has been in effect for more than 10 years, and the majority of livestock production is subject to its regulatory standards. With the regulation’s phase-in linked to building permit applications, the expectation is that all livestock farms will eventually be subject to these regulatory standards.
Not only does Ontario have high provincial standards based on robust regulation, but farmers and government also continually partner on other key initiatives, such as the Environmental Farm Plan and related stewardship programs that promote best management practices, including riparian area management, precision agriculture and runoff control measures. Beef Farmers of Ontario (BFO) fully recognizes the environmental imperatives of responsible nutrient use, and is actively engaged in education and outreach to its members across the province. This includes raising awareness about how nutrient runoff into surface water affects water quality in our rivers and lakes, through articles in Ontario Beef magazine (August 2016, December 2014) and at BFO's annual summer meeting with its advisory councilors from county/district organizations in July 2016. BFO continues to be proactive in communicating the importance of proper nutrient management, while also facilitating discussion within the industry on ideas for continuous improvement.
How does nutrient management work on the farm?
Farmers review and assess their manure production and the crop land that will utilize the manure to ensure they are adequately matched. This assessment includes mathematical models and detailed farm information, such as crop rotation plans for up to five years, and typically involves the use of a certified nutrient management specialist. Based on this assessment, a farmer may need to modify and/or expand their manure storage to ensure it is adequate for any long periods when manure is accumulated but not used, such as during winter. Nutrient management strategies and plans, which are part of the Nutrient Management Act’s regulatory standards, are reviewed and approved by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. These nutrient management strategies and plans are risk-based, with larger farms and those in vulnerable source water protection areas required to undertake more extensive planning. All farms regulated under the Nutrient Management Act keep records and annual updates, and the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change audits and inspects them to ensure compliance.
Manure storage is a major cost for a farm, often more than $100,000. This cost can’t be recouped by livestock farmers in the marketplace, and government programs can therefore play a critical role in enabling farms to make these types of large investments. However, nutrient management extends beyond planning for manure storage capacity – it also involves following best management practices for applying manure to fields with minimal risk of runoff and harm to the environment.
Grow Ontario Together is a collaboration of agriculture organizations that recognize the need to work together – with each other, with the public, with environmentalists, with municipalities, concerned citizens and with governments – to provide leadership that supports the triple bottom line for Ontario. A healthy environment. A healthy economy. And strong, healthy communities.
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