Factory Farm Not Welcome in Sarsfield

 

This story written for the Ottawa Citizen tells about resistance to a factory farm proposed for the town of Sarsfield.

Factory Farm Not Welcome in Sarsfield

Residents living in Ottawa’s Cumberland Ward have just a few more days to make the city aware of their views on intensive livestock operations opening in their area.

City planners are now deciding whether a Quebec resident will be able to expand a hog breeding operation to the size he wants on a former dairy farm near Sarsfield. Luc Fontaine, a soy bean and corn farmer from St.-Marc-sur-Richelieu, eventually wants to house 2,800 breeding sows on the Lafleur Road farm. Jean-Guy Bisson, a planner with the City of Ottawa, says Mr. Fontaine can legally have 1,090 sows on site immediately. Whether he will be able to increase that number depends on the outcome of a city review of the environmental impact of intensive livestock operations. It is anticipated that the review will be completed by September 2002, when an interim bylaw prohibiting new intensive farming operations and the expansion of present ones in Cumberland expires. The deadline for receiving residents’ comments on the matter is December 21.

Mr. Fontaine proposes to breed pigs on the farm and ship them to Quebec for sale when the piglets are weaned at 14 days. Sarsfield residents say a breeding farm brings nothing to the area but piles of manure and the resulting concerns about pollution. Over 700 people signed a petition against the farm, and about 175 turned up for an information meeting hosted by Cumberland Councillor Phil McNeely at the Navan Arena on December 3.

McNeely makes no secret of where he stands on the issue. “My immediate reaction [when I heard about the hog farm] was, ‘what about the ground water?’” he said. “There are no regulations in effect and Sarsfield is being told that nothing can be done. That is not acceptable.”

He is concerned that the city is not moving quickly enough to put controls in place to govern intensive livestock farming. “The new owners have requested 2,800 pigs be permitted. I don’t see anything the city is doing that will stop them at 1,090 pigs,” he said.

Mr. Fontaine, the owner of a dairy farm in Hawkesbury in addition to his Quebec property northeast of Montreal, says he bought a farm in Sarsfield because he wants to diversify his agriculture operation and provide a future for his sons. While the farmer stresses he chose to locate in Ontario for business reasons, he also commented that Quebec has the second most rigid environmental rules in the world governing pork farms.

While that statement may be a bit of an exaggeration, la belle province is certainly stricter than its neighbour to the west. “Quebec is more advanced in their agricultural environmental laws than Ontario,” says Hugh Maynard of the Quebec Farmers Association. He speculates that may be why Mr. Fontaine chose to open his hog farm here. He points out that the Quebec government has banned expansion of hog farming in 167 municipalities because of high phosphorous levels in the soil. “There will be no new hog farms permitted to open until those phosphorous levels are handled,” he says.

A Quebec Ministry of Environment spokesperson said in those areas not covered by the ban, anyone wishing to open a new pork farm or expand an existing one must apply to the provincial government and meet strict guidelines. In addition, Quebec has a nutrient management act in place that governs the disposal of manure.

Local farmer Glyn Chancey, who once raised hogs in Quebec, fears these tough regulations are encouraging Quebecois farmers to look this way to open intensive livestock operations. “The single, largest untapped area of farmland near Quebec is in Eastern Ontario,” he told residents at the December 3 meeting.

Other residents said that the type of operation Mr. Fontaine proposes for their area is not really a farm, but a factory, and would be more appropriately located in an industrial park, where rules and regulations could be established to govern it.

Meanwhile, Ontario’s proposed nutrient management act, Bill 81, did not pass the legislature before the Christmas recess. As the legislature will not sit again until April, it will be spring at the earliest before it is enacted. The ministry says the act will address concerns about the disposal of manure emanating from large-scale farming operations, such as that Mr. Fontaine proposes to open near Sarsfield. However, Don Mills of the Sierra Club of Canada says it may be too little, too late.

“It is unclear who will be responsible for the enforcement of the regulations in the proposed NMA… Proper and extensive environmental assessments of proposed intensive livestock operations must be expressed in the legislation,” he says.

Mills is also concerned that the act as proposed would remove the authority from the municipalities to set their own standards for large operations within their borders.

“As written, the Act would allow the provincial legislation to nullify any municipal by-laws that deal with the same subject matter,” he says.

Residents interested in commenting on intensive livestock operations in the Cumberland Ward are invited to call Jean-Guy Bisson at 580-2424, ext. 1-3317 or by e-mail at Jean-Guy.Bisson@city.ottawa.on.ca.

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