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Abbotsford Agricultural Waste Strategy

This Agricultural Waste Strategy was respectfully submitted to the City of Abbotsford on June 25, 2014, following a meeting with the mayor and city manager on April 29, 2014, and following the articles on agriculture and the environment in the Vancouver Sun in early June 2014.

This document will be updated from its original form on an ongoing basis as new and relevent information becomes available. The goal is to work towards a City in the Country that we can all be proud of, and one that can be a model of successful integration of intensive agriculture in the context of an expanding urban center. This agricultural waste strategy was developed after 23 years of observation and experience with waste management in the Fraser Valley.

Additional information and the science supporting it will be published on this blog on an ongoing basis. Feedback is always welcome.

Abbotsford Agricultural Waste Strategy

  1. Are we promoting sustainable agricultural policies?
  2. Are our current agricultural waste regulations and their enforcement negatively affecting our environment?
  3. Are we losing economic opportunities and investment because of inconsistent regulatory enforcement?

Summary

In Abbotsford there is currently no comprehensive plan to effectively manage agricultural waste, which impacts our environment, especially water quality and carbon footprint, as well as the sustainability of our thriving agricultural sector.

Meanwhile, our agricultural community is allowing the disposal of agricultural wastes to the detriment of the environment, especially water quality, not to mention the quality and healthfulness of the food itself.

It is possible and imperative to address both of these concerns, at the same time. Further agricultural waste processing such as composting is the missing piece to reach a symbiosis with the waste from livestock and the need for organic compost for crops. Adapting our regulations, encouraging the collection and processing of agricultural waste in a controlled, environmentally responsible way, answers these concerns—and protects Abbotsford’s agricultural sector for the long term.

Why is this Important?

1. We are committed to promoting a sustainable community that all residents can be proud of.

“BC’s Agriculture Plan Vision is: “Continued development and growth of an economically viable and resilient agriculture and food sector which contributes significantly to the health of British Columbians, climate change mitigation, environmental sustainability and a growing B.C. economy.” (BC Agriculture Plan)

2. Farm gate receipts in Abbotsford are among the highest in Canada—something we should work to maintain, and improve.

“Abbotsford farms and agri-business generate an economic effect of over $ 1.8 billion for Abbotsford’s economy, representing 25% of Abbotsford’s gross domestic product” (KPMG 2010), and 21% of farm gate receipts in BC (City of Abbotsford 2011).

3. Our intensive and diverse agriculture in combination with a growing urban/rural population presents an opportunity to model sustainability for other communities and geographical areas.

The Agri-Urban Research Centre (UFV) is intended to be a center of excellence in the area of the rural/urban fringe. With funding from Abbotsford, Dr. Lenore Newman is leading a project to research and exhibit the changes to the agricultural and environmental landscape in the Fraser Valley, designed to demonstrate the economic realities and community impact of agriculture on Abbotsford (UFV Website)

4. Sustainable management of agricultural waste is a limiting factor to continued agricultural growth and sustainability, and yet it is not specifically mentioned as a priority for British Columbia, the Fraser Valley Regional District, or the City of Abbotsford agriculture plan or vision documents.

One of the key environmental challenges associated with agriculture in the Fraser Valley is the management of “nutrients” [agricultural waste] (Fraser Basin Council 2001)

Assets
What are our agricultural assets in Abbotsford?

1. Some of the most fertile agricultural soil in the world

74% of Abbotsford’s land is in the Agricultural Land Reserve, much of which is “some of the richest in the country supporting a broad range of vegetables, field and cereal crops, small fruits, nursery products, sod, pasture and other crops.” FVRD 2011

2. Ideal climate for growing crops

FVRD has one of the longest frost free periods in Canada, making it one of the best agricultural areas in Canada. (FVRD 2011)

3. A thriving dairy industry with associated supply and processing capabilities

The BC Dairy Industry generates approximately 2.7 billion in economic output annually (BC Milk Marketing Board 2013). 19% of all BC dairy cows are in Abbotsford (Statistics Canada 2011), and a significant milk processing capability exists in Abbotsford.

4. A thriving poultry industry with associated  supply and processing capabilities

“The BC poultry industry value chain generates approximately $2 billion in economic output contributing $606 million in GDP to BC’s economy. (Price Waterhouse Coopers 2009),   90% of the farm equipment supply, 75% of the feed milling, 90% of the hatching, 50% of the further processing, 90% of the turkey processing, 80% of the egg grading, and 100% of the egg processing and drying occurs in Abbotsford (Dan Wiebe 2009).

5. A thriving soft fruit industry – blueberries, raspberries and strawberries

44% of Canada’s raspberry production is in Abbotsford, 31% of British Columbia’s blueberries are grown in Abbotsford (Statistics Canada 2011).

6. An enthusiastic organic industry – fruit and vegetables

Increased interest in locally produced food, provincial strategy to “increase organic sector capacity in value chains in order to capitalize on market opportunities” (BC Agriculture Strategy)

7. An adequate supply of water for irrigation and processing

FVRD receives 1,7000 mm of precipitation per year, with approximately 1,400 falling between October and April…recharging the region’s aquifers that are tapped for irrigation purposes during the dry summer months.” (FVRD 2011)

8. A thriving mushroom industry with associated supply and processing capabilities
39% of BC’s mushroom production occurs in Abbotsford (Statistics Canada 2011).

Production tripled to 56 million pounds in BC from 1993 to 2002. Receipts in 2003 alone were $79 million (BC Mushroom Industry 2006)

Pressing Concerns
In Abbotsford’s Sustainable Agriculture Plan, are the following concerns given adequate priority? And, how do the following concerns fit into the national and international priorities for agricultural sustainability?

1. No comprehensive plan for agricultural waste, particularly from the dairy, poultry, greenhouse and mushroom industries.

One of the key environmental challenges associated with agriculture in the Fraser Valley is the management of “nutrients” [agricultural waste] (Fraser Basin Council 2001). No mandatory planning for waste management required for agricultural industries, no minimum landbases required.

2. No mandatory nutrient management requirements result in over-application of nutrients to soil resulting in ground and surface water pollution from nutrients and bacteria.

Pollution of streams and groundwater due to application of manure and inorganic fertilizer in excess of crop requirements already noted in 1996 (Environment Canada 1996), nutrient management planning continues to be voluntary and confidential (FVRD 2011).

3. A soft fruit industry that requires clean irrigation water and compost or fertilizers that have met potential pathogen kill requirements (Good Agricultural Practice Guidelines).

Irrigation water must meet the BC Ministry of Environment and Health Canada standards and proper procedures to reduce or eliminate pathogens should be used for compost (BC Ministry of Agriculture). Imported compost or manure includes letter of assurance of potential pathogen kill (Canada GAP)

4. A dairy industry that emits a significant quantity of greenhouse gases (including methane and nitrous oxide), and ammonia.

81% of the methane produced on the dairy farm is emitted from the cow’s stomach (19% from manure storage), 39% of GHG emissions are nitrous oxide (from soil), (Meristem 2013). 75% of nitrogen fed to cows is excreted as manure. Ammonia nitrogen losses to the atmosphere include 22-39% from the barn floor and 10-25% following field application of manure (Paul, literature review) for a total of approximately 667 tonnes of nitrogen emitted annually from dairy cattle in Abbotsford (Brisbin 1994).

5. A poultry industry where up to 50% of the nitrogen is lost as ammonia from the barns.

Ammonia losses from poultry broiler and poultry layer barns are estimated at 20% and 40% of N excreted (Brisbin 1994). Estimated ammonia emission from the poultry industry in Abbotsford is 1862 tonnes of nitrogen annually.

6. An abundance of antimicrobials in hatchery waste and animal manure that may increase the risk antibiotic resistant bacteria in our environment.

88% of antimicrobials used in Canada are fed to animals (Sibbald 2012). Animals discharge 70-90% of antimicrobials unchanged or in active metabolites (Masse et al 2014). “By injecting eggs at hatcheries with ceftiofur, a medically important antibiotic, the farmers triggered the rise of resistant microbes that showed up in both chickens and in Canadians creating a “major” public health concern (Munro, Vancouver Sun April 17 2014)

7. An unconfined aquifer that supplies drinking water to Canada and US – could also be considered an asset – depends on how we choose to manage it.

Due to high nitrate concentrations, the water quality of the Abbotsford-Sumas Aquifer does not meet acceptable levels for human consumption under either Canadian or American standards (Washington Department of Health 1998)

8. Increased concern with pesticide use and food safety.

Laboratory studies show that pesticides can cause health problems, such as birth defects, nerve damage, cancer, and other effects that might occur over a long period of time.  However, these effects depend on how toxic the pesticide is and how much of it is consumed. Some pesticides also pose unique health risks to children (US EPA)

Limitations with Provincial Regulation
Agriculture in Abbotsford is affected by provincial regulations, specifically through the BC Ministry of the Environment and the Agricultural Land Commission. Lack of enforcement, illogical regulation and lack of regulation results in lost economic opportunities and increased environmental degradation.

Lack of Regulation
1. There is no mandatory provincial nutrient management planning required – plans are voluntary and confidential.

Lack of mandatory nutrient management planning may result in ground and surface water pollution, and contribute to increased costs to clean the water for irrigation or drinking purposes.

2. According to ALC regulations, greenhouses, mushroom barns and animal barns are allowed to cover much of the property, with no planning requirements for the agricultural waste.

Lack of agricultural waste management planning results in dumping of wastes along property boundaries (greenhouses) or dumping of agricultural wastes on other agricultural properties.

3. The ALC regulations encourage farming, but do not necessarily encourage protection of our soil resource (Regulations allow highest value soils to rendered unusable, paved for animal barns or greenhouses).

There is no protection for our highest quality soils in Abbotsford. Current regulations allow all of this land to be used for animal barns or greenhouses (277% increase in area under glass between 1996 and 2006). Greenhouse production does not require the soil resource.

Illogical Regulation
1. The importation of wood waste to utilize as bulking agent to process poultry or greenhouse waste on-farm is not permitted and requires a non-farm use exclusion.

The Agricultural Waste Control Regulation allows wood waste to be imported onto farms for animal bedding, or for use as a mulch, but not for on-farm agricultural waste processing.

2. Processing mushroom or greenhouse waste to reduce potential pathogens is not recommended on the farm because of potential disease concerns. However, exporting the agricultural waste off-farm for processing represents a non-farm use, or an industrial land designation—which is not economically viable or practically possible.

Food safety requirements may limit the amount of agricultural waste processing that may occur on the farm. The Agricultural Land Reserve Use, Subdivision and Procedure Regulation limits the processing of this waste on other agricultural properties.

3. Proposed promotion of, and regulations for, anaerobic digestion increase potential environmental concerns because additional non-agricultural waste is allowed onto farms that already produce excess agricultural wastes.

Proposed amendments to allow non-agricultural waste to be imported onto farms for anaerobic digestion do not require mandatory nutrient management plans, which may actually work to increase the potential pollution of surface and ground waters.

Lack of or Inconsistent Regulatory Enforcement
It appears that enforcement is lacking for:

1. The Agricultural Waste Control Regulation (BC Ministry of Environment)

Agricultural wastes are dumped near creeks or waterways.

2. Organic Matter Recycling Regulation (BC Ministry of Environment)

There are a number of composting or waste processing sites that should fall under the Organic Matter Recycling Regulation, and there are others that are registered but not being monitored or enforced by the BC Ministry of Environment.

3. The ALR Use, Subdivision and Procedure Regulation (Agricultural Land Commission)

There are soil deposits and other non-farm use activities that are being inconsistently monitored and enforced by the Agricultural Land Commission, which makes it difficult for parties who want to follow regulations.

Solutions for Abbotsford

1. Advocate for mandatory nutrient management plans

Mandatory nutrient management planning and reporting has been successfully implemented in Europe for more than 30 years, and more recently in other geographical areas in North America, to reduce the potential for ground and surface water pollution, and to protect surface water for fisheries or irrigation.

2. Waste management plans required for business licenses

Mandatory agricultural waste management plans for dairy, poultry, mushroom and greenhouse production works to ensure that the agricultural waste is being exported or managed in a legal and sustainable manner.

3. Advocate for non-farm use exclusions to allow processing of agricultural wastes.

Current regulations limit the ability to further process agricultural wastes in a sustainable manner, resulting in environmental damage and lost economic opportunities. Sustainable processing of agricultural wastes on abandoned farm yards or on marginal lands would reduce potential pollution of ground and surface water and produce products that can be marketed to other geographical areas and market sectors, creating further revenue–meanwhile removing a significant barrier to agricultural growth in Abbotsford.

4. Encourage strategies to reduce ammonia and greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture through incentives or tax reduction

Verifiable strategies to reduce ammonia and greenhouse gas emissions should be celebrated and encouraged, because they reduce social costs. Potential benefits of anaerobic digestion must be based on sound science and linked to mandatory nutrient management plans.

Recommendations

1. Consistently enforce regulations that are already in place – Abbotsford has ability to include ALC and MOE regulations in its enforcement program.

2. Encourage and promote legislative changes that allow sustainable agricultural waste management strategies.

3. Lead by example – encourage the City of Abbotsford itself to meet current regulations.

4. Create a vision that includes and supports all of Abbotsford’s agricultural assets so that we can all be proud of our agriculture in Abbotsford

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