The Canadian provinces of Ontario and Alberta are taking very different legislative approaches to agriculture and the environment, despite facing many of the same issues, according to a report by independent think tank the George Morris Centre (GMC).

While the report explains those approaches, however, it questions whether laws in either province can actually sustain the industry.

Cher Brethour, lead author and research associate at the GMC, explained that in Ontario, new policy generated under the Ontario Nutrient Management Act is being motivated by the impact of farming operations on the environment and human health.

Brethour said: “Any industry that depends upon soil and water must treat it appropriately if it is to be sustainable, however, the sustainability of an industry is also threatened if nuisance suits, emotional public opposition and excessive governmental regulations result in a stifling of its development.”

“The scale economies in manure technology tend to make it easier for larger farms to adopt, so this is not legislation that will save small farms…it may make it more difficult for them,” she added.

In Alberta, meanwhile, co-author and research associate in Calgary, Holly Mayer, explained that the specific focus is on standardising approvals for expansion, and on environmental standards for confined livestock feeding operations. The Alberta legislation is focused on livestock operations rather than nutrients.

This means that new livestock operations may face higher building costs that put them at a disadvantage to existing operations. In the short run, the narrower focus of the Alberta legislation is likely to place that province in a cost advantage in livestock, relative to Ontario.

“But in the long run,” admits Mayer, “Agriculture everywhere uses soil and water so Alberta will have no real advantage over Ontario as a result of focusing on livestock with regulation.”

Al Mussell, senior research associate at the GMC says a balance is required that satisfies legitimate environmental concerns, without unnecessarily restricting legitimate farm practices and unreasonably increasing the costs of production.

“The intention of the Alberta and Ontario governments appears to be to respect this trade-off, but in different ways,” he says.

To read the report in full, click here.