What Happens When People Make Complaints.
Tim Brook, Engineering Program Coordinator, OMAFRA
With farms, woods, wildlife and fresh air, rural residents cherish the charm and beauty of the countryside. Many people move from cities seeking peace and a pristine environment in the country.
Most people understand that a rural community includes farmers and that farming is a business. Ontario’s agriculture and food sector employs 760,000 people and contributes more than $35 billion to the province’s economy every year. This means that certain activities take place according to a production schedule; and some affect residents living close to farms. In almost all cases, farmers and their rural neighbours get along well together. However, there are some exceptions.
For the year of 2015- 2016 the ministry received 107 complaints related to farm practices. Of these, 45 (40%) were about odour, while the others were mainly about noise (26%), flies (19%) and municipal by-laws (9%).
Odour complaints are generally related to:
- farmers spreading manure on fields
- fans ventilating livestock barns
- manure piles
- mushroom farms.
To manage conflict about farm practices, the Ontario government enacted the Farming and Food Production Protection Act (FFPPA). This act establishes the Normal Farm Practices Protection Board (NFPPB) to determine “normal farm practices”. When a person complains about odour or other nuisance from a particular farming practice, the board has the authority to hear the case and decide whether the practice is a “normal farm practice”. If it is, the farmer is protected from any legal action regarding that practice.
When people make complaints about farm practices, a regional agricultural engineer or environmental specialist from OMAFRA’s Environmental Management Branch works with all parties involved to resolve the conflict. The board requires that any complaint go through this conflict resolution process before it comes to a hearing.
Each year, through the conflict resolution process, OMAFRA staff have resolved the vast majority of complaints. In 2015-16, only twelve of the 107 cases resulted in hearings before the board. Of these, only two were odour cases involving multiple nuisances such as noise, dust and flies. Thus, while odours remain the biggest cause of complaints about farm practices, OMAFRA staff working through the conflict resolution process has proved very effective in dealing with them.