Bio solid storage allowed in Brooke-Alvinston with tighter standards

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A pile of biosolids in Dawn-Euphemia. If the fertilizer, made from human waste, is not covered and is wet, it can spontaneously combust. If the product is wet, it also emits a heavy odour in the air.

Normal Farm Practices Protect board gives Buurma Acres one year to improve storage to keep bio solids dry, preventing odour and combustion

The Normal Farm Practices Protection Board says storing bio solid fertilizer on a Brooke-Alvinston farm is a normal part of the Churchill Line operation.

But it says Buurma Acres has to make changes to the way it stores the material.

In April 2020, David Buurma’s numbered company filed an appeal to the Normal Farm Practices Protection Board asking it to rule that a large bunker where he stored fertilizer made from human and industrial waste is a normal part of his farm’s business. He also wanted the board to rule Brooke-Alvinston’s Tidy Yards Bylaw and Zoning Bylaw was restricting the practice.

There were six days of hearings before the board in March and Friday, the NFPPB released its decision saying “storage of fertilizer is deemed to be included in the list of agricultural activities (in the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Act) and is therefore part of an agricultural operation.”

It pointed to evidence given by other farmers that large operations do store all types fertilizer in a central location for distribution to larger farm parcels. Buurma Acres owns 55 farm properties over four counties, including Lambton, which David Buurma told the hearing, use the fertilizer stored on Churchill Line.

And the board’s ruling says the municipality’s two bylaws stop the practice. The board in its ruling said the municipality believed the storage was a commercial activity since Buurma Acres includes the biomass fertilizer company LaSalle Agri.

“We note that there was no evidence that there was any sale of fertilizer from the subject lands,” says the board’s ruling of the storage on Churchill Line.

But the board also determined changes have to be made to the operation for it to continue, saying right now Buurma Acres is operating the centralized storage within a “regulatory gap.” Bio solid fertilizer is not regulated under either Ontario’s Nutrient Management Act nor the federal Canadian Fertilizer Act.

The board found the farm was not storing the product according to the Canada Product Label instructions – the only official guidelines available.

And it noted Buurma Acres stored it far longer than others who testified on the farms behalf. One witness said the farms which do use bio solid fertilizer generally don’t keep it on site longer than three months. Buurma Acres told the board the fertilizer could stay in the concrete bunker on Churchill Line for up to a year but is generally stored for up to nine months.

“The evidence did not support the standalone practice of long-term storage for the length of time the fertilizer is being stored on the subject lands but did support the practice of centralized storage of fertilizer for distribution to other farms in the farm unit,” the NFPPB says in its decision.

That long term storage, coupled with a bunker which the board found does not protect the fertilizer from the elements, leads to odours which neighbours testified caused significant problems.

Witnesses told the board of being unable to open windows when the odours rose and how it would stick to clothing and even food for hours.

But the board says “we take into consideration that there were no odour studies done by the applicants or the respondent, no evidence called by the respondent concerning complaints to the municipality and that no neighbours asked to be added as parties to this litigation.”

But the board has given Buurma Acres one year to modify the storage operation to conform what it determined was a best practice.

“The present system of attempting to keep the pile of Fertilizer in the bunkers covered with poly tarp has proven to be ineffective in keeping the product dry as required by the CFA Label. Whether intentionally or through inadvertence, the evidence shows that the product is often left uncovered and subject to rain, snow and humidity,” the board wrote.

It wants the fertilizer stored in either a covered vertical silo with the product covered by a nitrogen blanket to reduce the risk of combustion or stored in a waterproof bunker with a fixed roof and an entry that can be closed to keep out rain and snow since precipitation increase the moisture content of the fertilizer and leads to combustion and the strong odour.

The board also wants the farm unit to start active weekly testing of the bio solid fertilizer to make sure it stays dry with less than 10 per cent moisture content. If it goes over, the product has to be removed and spread if possible. If it is not, it has to be removed with new product replacing it. The farm would then have to test it for seven days to ensure the moisture content was under 10 per cent.

“The evidence also convinces the board that by keeping the product permanently covered and dry, the excessive odour from the fertilizer and the combustion events should be significantly reduced and hopefully eliminated,” the board concluded.

Both the board and Buurma acres can appeal the decision.

Buurma Acres also has hearings before the NFPPB objecting to bylaws in both Warwick Township and Dawn-Euphemia. The municipalities cases were closely linked with Brooke-Alvinston’s and the three were working together on this hearing.