Harvest season is coming, have you considered your soil health?

Harvest season is soon to be upon us in southern Ontario!

Dust will be flying as growers race to harvest their crops at the optimal time. Shortly after harvest, planning and planting for next year will begin. Be sure to consider your soil health when harvesting and planning for next year. There are a number of options available for growers to improve their soil, including:

  • Fertilizer
  • Manure
  • Compost
  • Non Agricultural Source Materials (NASM) such as biosolids

Each nutrient source can help to boost your soil health and can provide unique benefits for your soil and the coming season. Each nutrient source has specific requirements for use under the Nutrient Management Act (NMA) that are important when considering which to use. Check out details for nutrient use here.

Wessuc’s primary recommendation is to pay attention to your manure storage. If your manure storage is filling up again, it should be your primary nutrient source as it also provides a great source of organic matter and micro nutrients to improve your soil health.

If you need help emptying it prior to any fall planting or field preparation contact us, we’d be happy to help with spreading. However, if you aren’t sure which nutrient source works best for you Wessuc can create custom nutrient plans and strategies in time for harvest season. Get started by emailing us at info@wessuc.com

How the Nutrient Management Act Applies to Non-Agricultural Source Material

What is the Nutrient Management Act?

The Nutrient Management Act (NMA) outlines its purpose “to provide for the management of materials containing nutrients in ways that will enhance protection of the natural environment and provide a sustainable future for agricultural operations and rural development.”

The are two key things to note, protect the environment, and sustain agriculture.  The act and the associated regulations then proceed to lay the foundation, the how, where, when, what, and who to obtain those two goals.

What is non-agricultural source material, or NASM?

The Nutrient Management Act  provides a lot of detailed description regarding what qualifies NASM along with specifications, sampling requirements, and a defined beneficial use requirement for NASM. As a rule of thumb any material from a non-agricultural source that can provide a benefit to the soil or crop in a field is a NASM.  If the intent is to use a non-agricultural source material on agricultural soil it must be shown to provide some benefit. This could be as a nutrient source or as a soil conditioner (reducing pH, adding organic matter).    Once a benefit is established then the NASM must pass additional quality criteria which is typically a sample analysis demonstrating it’s benefit and conversely lack of detriment. Depending on its source the NASM criteria varies.

Generally the source of the NASM will place it into one of three categories:

  1. Category– Unprocessed Plant Material (eg. Vegetable peels, vegetable washwater that contains food grade cleaners, etc.)
  2. Category – Processed Plant Material (eg. food waste, Bakery Waste)
  3. Category- Anything not found in category 1 or 2, including animal based material (eg. meat processing plant waste, municipal biosolids)

Depending on the category of the material different use restrictions  are applied, such as timing of application, application rate, storage, approvals required etc.

The NMA then proceeds to covers the remaining aspects of NASM use:

  • Who can spread (license requirements)
  • When the material can be spread (time of year)
  • Where the NASM can be spread (setbacks from sensitive features)
  • How the NASM must be spread (injection, irrigation).

In this way the Nutrient Management Act covers all aspect of NASM use, from its generation to its final use on agricultural land. Once the who, when, where, and how the Nutrient Management Act applies to NASM is covered, farmers must understand how it affects them.

Farming Using NASM

Farmers using NASM need to be aware of the requirements under the Nutrient Management Act. They will be held responsible for ensuring NASM is applied when beneficial for crop production, must comply with any waiting periods between application and harvesting or grazing, and use best practices to optimize benefits and minimize environmental risk. Depending on the NASM being used they may be required to obtain an approval from OMAFRA prior to incorporating NASM into their Nutrient Management Strategy.

NASM can provide many benefits beyond those of commercial fertilizer. The addition of organic matter enhances soil structure, moisture retention and permeability while reducing erosion potential.  NASMs typically also provide micro nutrients such as zinc, magnesium and copper, in addition to the macro nutrients required for plant growth.  The sequestering of carbon in the organic material into the soil also helps reduce GHGs.

Interested in receiving NASM or have a NASM that you are thinking of using on your farm. Our staff have extensive experience obtaining NASM plans. We can evaluate the benefits with you and assist in obtaining any necessary approvals for your NASM use. We can also help with the field spreading and reporting required. Visit the land application page to contact us. Or download the Checklist to determine the best solution to managing your Biosolids.


Reusing Non-Agricultural Source Material (NASM) to Optimize Agricultural Nutrient Management

Soils are more important to us than we realize, but they are often taken for granted. Around the world, farmers strive for sustainable, productive agricultural soils. In 2015, we celebrated the International Year of Soils as designated by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). In FAO’s “The Status of the World’s Soil Resources”, it was reported that soils are deteriorating. They attributed this to a number of factors including:

  • soil erosion,
  • nutrient depletion,
  • loss of organic carbon,
  • over application of mineral fertilizers and pesticides, and
  • declining soil biodiversity.

Further recognition was given by the International Union of Soil Sciences (IUSS) when it declared 2015-2024 the “decade of soils” in an effort to bring more attention to soil’s fundamental role in sustaining human life.

Desertification of Soils Trend and the Nutrient Management Act

Desertification of soils has been an ongoing concern in Canada, specifically in Ontario and Quebec, as soils continue to lose organic matter.

In short, we need to do more to build our soils and we need to do it better. In Ontario, we’ve been working with the Nutrient Management Act (NMA) for over 6 years now. The act and associated regulations ensure that any nutrient rich material (with the exception of fertilizer) is used in a beneficial manner that’s protective of the environment. Non-Agricultural Source Material (NASM) which is nutrient rich material includes manures, biosolids, food and beverage waste, and other non-agricultural source materials. The NMA has provided direction and a push in the right direction for sustainability and environmental responsibility.

The Importance of Biosolids as a NASM

Biosolids is one type of NASM that is key to improving our soils. The land application of biosolids has been going strong for over 50 years in Ontario. They provide many of the same macro and micro nutrients as well as organic matter that are found in manure. The importance of biosolids in agricultural nutrient management is well established and supported by government and academia. The quality of biosolids has continually improved with many municipalities further processing their biosolids into sailable fertilizer product.

Over the past couple of years, there has been a renewed interest in using NASM in different ways:

  • Renewable natural gas,
  • Electricity generation, or
  • Biochar production.

In each instance, a portion of the processed material creates a residual that needs to be managed, typically through beneficial use on agricultural land.

Biosolids Land Application Alternative to Landfills

In Canada, over 2.5 million wet tonnes of biosolids are produced each year. Historically about 25% of that material was taken to landfill, with the remainder either used on agricultural land (35%) or incinerated (40%). Additionally, 34 million tonnes of municipal and industrial waste is generated each year of which only 8 million tonnes (25%) is recycled.

As the province moves towards a more sustainable future, biosolids and other organic materials are becoming coveted resources rather than wastes. New legislation is forcing this change in Ontario with the Waste Free Ontario Act. A renewed focus on reuse has come to the forefront. With diversion goals of 30% by 2020 and up to 80% by 2050, biosolids and other organic resources will no longer be permitted in landfills. Other provinces have already banned organics in landfills.

While biosolids land application and other NASM will increase over the coming years, it will remain a viable and desirable option for municipalities. Only 15% of Ontario’s land base would be needed to use all the biosolids produced in the province beneficially, leaving 85% of the agricultural land available to receive other soil amendments therefore there is a lot of room for growth.

There are additional benefits as returning organic matter to our soils will reduce our carbon footprint through carbon sequestering while simultaneously increasing yields and improving soil resilience. A 1% increase in soil organic matter is approximated to 5.8 tons/acre of sequestered carbon. A study in Michigan also showed a crop-yield increase of about 12% for every 1% increase in soil organic matter.

Biosolids land application produces positive results with both crop production and environmental sustainability. To see biosolids land application in action, check out the Case Study: Brant County. 



Best Practices for Excess Soil Management

In the province of Ontario how do we manage excess soil?

Over 25 million cubic metres of excess soil needs to be managed each year in Ontario. In 2014 the province issued a Best Management Practice to guide the  industry in how to best manage excess soils in order to protect the environment and promote beneficial reuse, but it had little effect. In 2017 the province pushed this initiative farther by releasing a regulatory proposal for Excess Soil Management. The initial intent was to implement the regulatory framework by Jan 1, 2018. Thankfully the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change has listened to many of the comments they received from their ERB posting and have committed to a number of changes for the implementation and focus of the regulation:

1) An ammended phased-in approach for the regulation was put forth, implementing reuse standards in 2020 and excess soil management plans and registry requirements in 2021;

2) A recognition that excess soil should be seen first and foremost as a resource rather than a waste;

3) And changes to what triggers an Excess Soil Management Plan (ESMP) being required.

For further details on excess soil management take a look at the following presentation by the Province of Ontario Ministry of Environment and Climate Change from the Canadian Urban Institute Symposium in 2017.