By Stephen Hawboldt
It would appear that mink farming is poised to explode in Annapolis County and there may be little or no opportunity for local residents to be involved. While the county is moving to control the industry through land use planning, councillors and residents may be powerless.
It seems the provincial mink industry is unable to meet the demand for pelts in China and Russia. Dan Mullen, president of the NS Mink Breeders Association, told the Chronicle Herald this week, “they ( NS mink farmers) can’t keep up with a wildly growing global demand.” As the overwhelming majority of mink farms are located in Digby County, Mullen said, “we would like to see farmers branch out to other counties so that we’re not quite so crowded.”
The mink industry has an appalling environmental record in Digby County. Independent research commissioned by NS Environment showed that waste from the mink industry was responsible for massive algae blooms on lakes in Carlton and Tusket watersheds. These waterways are now a public health risk due to this pollution. The industry is still in denial. “It’s not just the mink industry,” Mullen told the Herald. “All I can say is we can’t focus on the past.” Little effort appears to be directed to cleaning up the severe pollution problems in Digby County.
The provincial and federal governments are investing in improving waste management from the industry. One project revolves around manure management and the other is focused on turning wastes into energy. While these are steps in the right direction, they won’t address the existing pollution problems and will do little to prevent them in other locations in the province. As the industry expands into other areas, these new facilities in Digby may be too far away for waste to be trucked to them.
Because Annapolis County does not already have comprehensive land use planning, county council is now scrambling to put in place bylaws that could increase separation distances and allow for community input. Until the necessary legal steps are taken, the industry has a window of several weeks, perhaps months, in which they can apply for building permits with no municipal restrictions. It seems the industry is working overtime to exploit this window. There are unconfirmed reports that 15 newly approved permits have been issued for potential mink farms in the county.
The province is assisting in this. Instead of waiting until new regulations are approved under the 2010 fur farming act, the province seems to taking the stance that they can fix any siting problems after the farms are approved. Since they are unable or unwilling to address the severe public health issues in Yarmouth County, it is difficult to have confidence in these assertions.
In support of the industry, the province has commissioned a study that shows, “the potential available agricultural land base in Annapolis County can support the manure from 5.8 million mink.” This statement is the conclusion in a report on manure nutrients by an agricultural consultant. It is suggested in this report that farmland in this region has been so badly managed by farmers that it is in dire need of massive nutrient inputs. The report fails to note that most researchers are very cautious when recommending manure applications due to high variability in nutrient composition, crop needs, and restrictions for certain foods due to public health issues.
It seems that federal, provincial, and industry proponents are poised for a rapid expansion of the mink industry in Annapolis County. Municipal councillors will be challenged to ensure that any expansion is in the best interests of most residents. Mink farming is poised to explode.
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