The Agricultural Operations Act (the Act) was established in 1995. The Act provides a regulatory framework for addressing complaints of agricultural nuisance and for protecting water resources by requiring prescribed intensive livestock operations to have adequate waste storage and waste management plans.
The Nuisance Provisions of the Act protect agricultural operations that farm in accordance with "normally acceptable agricultural practices" from unreasonable court action. They also provide neighbours with a process for determining if agricultural nuisances (such as odour, noise, dust, flies or other disturbances) arising from agricultural operations are caused by inappropriate farming practices. The Act establishes a process for mediating disputes of agricultural nuisance through the Agricultural Operations Review Board. For more information, contact the Agricultural Operations Review Board at 306-787-5047.
Intensive Livestock Provisions
The Act provides criteria for determining which intensive livestock operations (ILOs) require regulatory approvals. These provisions require those operators to have plans to store and manage livestock wastes in a manner that protects water resources.
Regulatory responsibility for livestock operations
In addition to the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture, other agencies may have requirements of livestock producers.
Saskatchewan Water Security Agency regulates ground and surface water use, ground water investigation drainage including the diversion of surface water, aquatic habitat protection and domestic waste lagoons.
Rural municipalities (RMs) generally have discretionary use approval requirements for intensive livestock developers. The RM has sole authority for land use decisions and defining areas where ILOs may be sited. Municipal requirements should be determined early in the planning stage.
Saskatchewan Ministry of Labour Relations and Workplace Safety have occupational health and safety regulations that may apply to livestock operations.
- Intensive Livestock Operation — Under the Act, a livestock operation is defined as intensive if the livestock confinement space per animal unit is less than 370 m² (4,000 ft²).
- Animal unit — An animal unit is a means of comparing different ages and species of livestock. The amount of nitrogen produced by one animal unit is approximately the same across species. Eg. One cow, 200 broiler chickens, or six feeder pigs represent one animal unit and would produce about the same amount of nitrogen.
Importance of site selection
Determining the location of a livestock operation is a critical development decision. In addition to the many functional and business considerations associated with choosing a location, the site's potential environmental risks should be considered early in the process.
Choosing a site that affords natural protection for water resources may reduce development costs, provide operational efficiencies and minimize difficulties in obtaining regulatory approvals.
Waste storage and management plans
The Act requires livestock operators to develop and operate according to plans approved by the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture for storing their manure and managing the nutrients and mortalities so that water resources are not at risk of being contaminated.
Manure Storage Plans: A plan for the storage of manure is required and must ensure surface and ground water pollution will not occur. Preparing this plan requires a study of regional and local soil and groundwater conditions, and the provision of a topographical survey of the site. A qualified professional is required to investigate the geological conditions at the site and to prepare plans for manure storage systems.
Liquid Manure: Earthen manure storages (EMS) are often suitable; however, if the level of natural groundwater protection is inadequate, more sophisticated containment systems such as clay liners, synthetic liners, seepage collection systems or tanks may be required.
Solid Manure: Solid manure is often stored in pens or is stockpiled when removed from pens or barns. Plans must demonstrate that surface water is protected from runoff from these areas. This is normally accomplished with constructed dikes, diversion ditches and containment ponds.
Nutrient Management Plans: Plan approval requires that sufficient land area is available to receive all the manure produced. Manure may be applied to a parcel of land at a frequency and application rate that meets the planned crop nitrogen requirements under average climatic conditions. Producers are advised to test their soil to verify the nutrient management is achieving environmental and agronomic objectives.
Mortality Management Plans: A plan for disposal of livestock carcasses that demonstrates that water resources are not impacted by contaminants must be established. Operators should include plans for a catastrophic death loss event, such as a ventilation failure, disease or fire. Mortality management plan options include: burial in suitable locations; composting; rendering; and incineration.
Plan approval requirements
The following intensive livestock operations require the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture's approval of plans:
- If liquid waste is to be stored in an earthen manure storage.
- If the size of the operation is more than 300 animal units.
- If the size of the operation is between 20 and 300 animal units and within 300 metres of a watercourse or 30 metres of a well not controlled by the operator.
Contact a Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture Regional Engineer regarding your specific requirements.
- Saskatoon: 306-227-9593 or 306-221-6245
- Moose Jaw: 306-630-2541 or 306-539-1712
- Yorkton: 306-621-1161 or 306-621-6303
Public Process: Livestock developers are encouraged to initiate a public consultation process. All developers should discuss their plans with their neighbours and their rural municipality. Persons developing large operations should consider a formal process involving public notices and providing opportunity for the public to understand what is proposed. Other agencies may have specific requirements for a public consultation process associated with their regulatory process.
Site Characterization: A site investigation will determine the presence and location of ground and surface water resources and the natural geological and topographical protection provided by the site. Interpretation of local (site) conditions requires evaluation of the regional geology from existing data sources. Site characterization is normally completed by a qualified professional.
Application: The developer must prepare an application for approval of waste storage, nutrient and mortality management plans. The application must contain:
- Sufficient information about the operation;
- Management practices; and
- Geophysical information necessary to support the plans.
Supporting information includes:
- Designation of land for manure application with cropping plans;
- Existing information (such as well driller's reports, surficial and subsurface geological reports and topographical maps);
- Soil and groundwater investigation results; and
- A topographical survey and plan.
This information is used to: verify site conditions; provide design parameters for manure storage facilities and mortality disposal plans; and support the nutrient management plan. Developers should anticipate that application preparation may take up to one year.
Review and Decision: The application is reviewed by the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture and other referral agencies. The referral agencies are provided opportunity to identify their regulatory requirements and are provided up to 40 days to submit comments on environmental sensitivities not addressed in the application.
These agencies may include:
- The local RM;
- The Saskatchewan Water Security Agency; and
- The Saskatchewan Ministries of Environment, Government Relations, Highways and Infrastructure, and Labour Relations and Workplace Safety.
After the referral comments are received or the comment period has ended, a decision is made by the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture, usually within three weeks.
Audit: Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture staff conduct audits of approved plans to ensure waste storage facilities and nutrient and mortality management practices are conforming to the plan. Changes to the operation may require amendments to the waste storage or waste management plans or may require a new application.
Not complying with the requirements of the Agricultural Operations Act
The Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture will co-operate with the operator to ensure water resources are protected and establish compliance with the legislation. Agricultural Operations staff have the authority to enter property for the purpose of conducting an inspection. The Act prescribes a number of enforcement options when producers do not address potential risks within an acceptable time period. Enforcement options provided under the Act include: suspension or cancellation of an approval; the issuance of Minister's Orders; and prosecution through the courts. The court may assess fines and require the operation to come into compliance with the Act.