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Ontario Regulates Land Application of Nutrients

The Nutrient Management Act, 2002 came into force on July 1, 2003 and reflects the Ontario government's strategy to manage the application of nutrients to land. Nutrients include material such as manu...


The Nutrient Management Act, 2002 came into force on July 1, 2003 and reflects the Ontario government’s strategy to manage the application of nutrients to land. Nutrients include material such as manure and other materials generated through agricultural operations, bio-solids generated by municipal sewage treatment, and pulp and paper sludge. When applied in proper amounts, nutrients aid in achieving optimum crop yields. However, improper application of nutrients can lead to imbalances and can cause water quality problems.

Legislation & regulation

The Nutrient Management Act, 2002 provides authority for the government to establish province-wide standards for the management of materials containing nutrients. The legislation also bans the application of untreated septage over a five-year period and establishes requirements such as nutrient management plans, certification of land applicators and a registry system for all land applications. There are also duties in the legislation for farmers, municipalities and others in the business of managing nutrients.

The Nutrient Management Act, 2002 contains amendments to the Environmental Protection Act, the Highway Traffic Act, the Ontario Water Resources Act and the Pesticides Act, and consequential amendments to the Farming and Food Production Protection Act, 1998 to ensure consistency.

The first regulation under the Nutrient Management Act, 2002 came into force this fall, along with the issuing of several protocols dealing with construction and siting, local advisory committees, nutrient management, and sampling and analysis. The regulation includes specific requirements and limits with respect to setback, winter spreading and the siting and construction of new and expanding barns. (See article, pg. 62)

The regulation refers to a “nutrient unit” which is the unit of measurement for agricultural operations and is intended to permit an equal comparison amongst all soil nutrients generated at farms. The actual definition of a “nutrient unit” in the regulation is the amount of manure that gives the fertilizer replacement value of the lower of 43 kg of nitrogen or 55 kg of phosphate. There is detailed documentation, to be used in conjunction with the regulation, that provides guidance on converting various types of livestock to nutrient units.

For existing large livestock operations that involve more than 300 nutrient units the regulation takes effect July 1, 2005. For all new livestock farms and those expanding into and within the large category (again, more than 300 nutrient units), September 30, 2003 is the implementation date. The regulation does not set out requirements with respect to smaller farms, and this issue will be determined by a provincial advisory committee that has recently been appointed for this purpose. However, it’s not expected that smaller farms would be included earlier than 2008, and funding will be available to assist them.

Plans, strategies & deadlines

The protocol dealing with nutrient management sets out the requirements for nutrient management strategies and plans. The property owner or an employee must prepare the plan and strategy. Any plans or strategies prepared by a third party must be developed by one that is properly accredited in accordance with the requirements set out in the regulation.

There’s a distinct difference between these two terms. A nutrient management strategy (MNS) is required of generators of prescribed materials (such as manures, municipal biosolids or pulp and paper sludge). A nutrient management strategy must account for the volume of prescribed material that will be produced over a five-year period, and describe how it will be stored and where it will be used. A nutrient management plan (NMP) also covers a five-year period and deals with the land application of prescribed materials. It specifies how manure and other nutrients can be applied to a parcel of land.

Non-agricultural operations will have to prepare a nutrient management strategy between 2005 and 2008. Specifically, operations with pulp and paper biosolids will require a nutrient management strategy by January 1, 2008. Operations involving sewage biosolids will have a different phase-in date depending on the nature of the operations. If the operation is a municipal sewage processor that is sufficient to generate fewer than 4,450 cubic metres per day, then the phase-in date is January 1, 2008. If the quantity is between 4,450 cubic metres and 45,450 cubic metres per day, then the phase-in date is January 1, 2007. If the operation generates more than 45,450 cubic metres per day, then the phase-in date is January 1, 2005. Essentially, the greater the amount of sewage biosolids, the earlier the phase-in date. Any non-agricultural source material that does not fall within the descriptions above has a phase-in date of January 1, 2007.

There has been considerable concern in recent years regarding the impact of the land application of nutrients. (See Editorial from the June/July edition.) It’ll be interesting to monitor whether the regulation can be smoothly implemented in an area whether there have been few standards or controls, or whether, as many believe, amendments will be required to deal with issues and problems that arise.

Rosalind Cooper, LL.B. is a partner with Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP, with offices across Canada. Ms. Cooper is based in toronto, Ontario. E-mail Rosalind at rcooper@tor.fasken.com


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