April 26, 2010, Toronto – Ontario agriculture is concerned, once again, that a provincial government program is about to unfairly add to their production costs. The issue stems from a Ministry of the Environment initiative to charge a fee on all fertilizer sold in bags or containers under 30 kilograms in weight.
The fees collected are to cover the cost of collecting unused fertilizer as a “special waste” and then disposing of it “appropriately,” likely through incineration.
For a large portion of Ontario farmers this may not be an issue since they work with bulk, not bagged, fertilizer. Many farmers in Ontario’s horticulture and greenhouse sectors, however, rely on 25 kg bags of fertilizer for their operations, as do many field crop growers who are not set up for handling bulk fertilizer. Indeed, the Ontario Agri Business Association estimates that Ontario farmers purchase approximately 30,000 tonnes of fertilizer in packages of 30 kg or less, each year.
The Ontario Federation of Agriculture has always been a strong proponent of waste diversion since municipal solid waste typically ends up in landfill, and these landfills are often sited on arable land – usually Class 1 land that is ideally suited for agricultural production. However, the OFA cannot support the concept of diverting agricultural fertilizer from landfills for the simple reason that farmers do not direct fertilizer into the waste stream. Period!
The process that ushered in this issue began in 2002 when the government passed the Waste Diversion Act, an act to promote the reduction, reuse, and recycling of waste and to provide for the development, implementation and operation of waste diversion programs. At the same time it established a Municipal Hazardous and Special Waste Program. The first phase of that program was introduced in 2007, at which time fertilizer was characterized as a Special Waste, but there was an exemption for fertilizers used in agricultural operations. However, recent revisions to the program have removed that exemption.
A recent letter from the Ontario Agri Business Association to the Ministry of the Environment’s Stewardship Ontario office states: “The agricultural sector has repeatedly stated concern with agricultural fertilizers being captured in a program for residential and small industrial, commercial and institutional (waste) generators.”
From the perspective of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, fertilizers are an essential farm input, and government needs to understand there is no waste fertilizer. The OABA letter points out, and we agree that “farmers will not be returning fertilizer to hazardous waste depots or landfill.” In fact, it could and should be stated that Ontario’s agricultural sector is already in full compliance with the goal of the province’s Waste Diversion Act in that fertilizer purchased by farmers is used in its entirety and generates no waste, whatsoever.
OFA calls on the Ministry of the Environment to accept the fact that it would be inequitable to extract a fee from the agricultural sector for diverting fertilizer from landfills when the agricultural sector is not responsible for directing fertilizer to landfills.
While the inclusion of agricultural fertilizers packaged in 25 kg bags may be viewed as more administratively efficient by Stewardship Ontario, it clearly demonstrates a naive misunderstanding of farming that would result in a tax on farming to support a service that farmers do not use.
OFA will continue to work on this issue in search of greater fairness for all Ontario farmers.
Keith Currie is an executive member with the Ontario Federation of Agriculture.