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Rationalizing fertilizer packaging

April 26, 2010  By Keith Currie

April 26, 2010, Toronto – Ontario
agriculture is concerned, once again, that a
provincial government program is about to unfairly add to their
production costs.


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.


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