What are the manure application regulations in Alberta?

The Agricultural Operation Practices Act (AOPA) established manure management standards for all farming and ranching operations in Alberta. The 2008 Reference Guide to AOPA simplifies the Act so producers can easily understand the regulations and their obligations for responsible manure management. It is important to note that the Act applies not only to livestock owners whose animals produce manure, but portions of the Act also apply to custom manure applicators and farms where manure is spread, even though that manure was not produced on-farm. Some of the highlights of the Nutrient Management portion of the Act include:

1. Minimum Setback Distances for manure application

  • 30 metres from a water well
  • 10 metres from a common body of water if subsurface injection is used
  • 30 metres from a common body of water if manure is surface applied and incorporated
  • 150 metres from an occupied building if manure is surface applied and not incorporated within 48 hrs

2. Soil Protection. Generally, manure must not be applied to land if:

  • The electrical conductivity (EC) of the soil is greater than 4 deciSeimens per metre (dS/m) based on a 0-15 cm soil sampling depth.
  • The amount of manure applied will increase the soil EC (0-15 cm depth) by more than 1 dS/m
  • The amount of manure applied will increase soil nitrate nitrogen in the 0-60 cm depth to a level that equals or exceeds specified limits based on soil zone, soil texture, and depth to water table (Table 1.)
Table 1. Soil Nitrate Nitrogen Limits in 0-60 cm
Soil Zone > 45% Sand and < 4 m to water table > 45% Sand and > 4 m to water table Medium and Fine
Textured Soils
Brown 80 kg/ha (75 lb/ac) 110 kg/ha (100 lb/ac) 140 kg/ha (125 lb/ac)
Dark Brown 110 kg/ha (100 lb/ac) 140 kg/ha (125 lb/ac) 170 kg/ha (150 lb/ac)
Black 140 kg/ha (125 lb/ac) 170 kg/ha (150 lb/ac) 225 kg/ha (200 lb/ac)
Gray (Luvisolic soil) 110 kg/ha (100 lb/ac) 140 kg/ha (125 lb/ac) 170 kg/ha (150 lb/ac)
Irrigated 180 kg/ha (160 lb/ac) 225 kg/ha (200 lb/ac) 270 kg/ha (240 lb/ac)

3. Soil Analyses: An operation that applies more than 500 tonnes of manure annually must have the following soil analyses for each field that receives manure:

  • Nitrate-nitrogen in 0-60 cm depth
  • EC in 0-15 cm depth
  • Soil texture of 0-15 and 15-30 cm depths.

Soil analysis must be performed prior to manure application if the test has not been conducted previously. Required soil tests do not have to be performed every year but records must not be older than 3 years except for soil texture, which is a one-time analysis.

4. Record Keeping: AOPA requires that operations handling over 500 tonnes of manure annually keep manure management records for a minimum of five years. Records that must be kept include the identity of operations producing, handling, and applying manure, volume and weight of manure handled/spread, application rates, dates of handling, and where the manure is spread. For a complete list of required records refer to the 2008 Reference Guide to AOPA or Manure Management Record Keeping: What is required by the Agricultural Operation Practices Act

Is a Nutrient Management Plan required by AOPA?
Nutrient Management Plans are not required if manure application limits and soil protection requirements of the Act are met. An NRCB approved nutrient management plan is required in exceptional situations such as if the land base of a confined feeding operations is inadequate according to the Act or if EC and/or nitrate loading limits are to be exceeded by manure applications.

Does manure have to be incorporated?
Manure applied to perennial forages or to land that is normally direct seeded, does not have to be incorporated. In some situations, manure can be applied to the surface of frozen or snow covered land, but this is only with Natural Resource Conservation Board (NRCB) approval.

How much plant nutrients are in manure?
There is huge variability in what people call "manure". Hog manure is drastically different from poultry manure and both are quite different from beef feedlot manure. Even the nutrient content of feedlot manure is not consistent because of varying amounts of bedding and animal waste that make up the "manure". The only way to accurately know the nutrient levels in manure is to have a lab analysis of a representative sample. If lab analyses are not available, the following table can be used to estimate the plant nutrients in manure from various sources.

Table 2. Estimated Nutrient Content of Livestock Manures*
Type of Livestock Moisture % Total N
Available N lbs/ton Total P2O5 lbs/ton Total K2O lbs/ton
Beef Feeders
Feeder calves
Cows w/calf
30-70 (50) 20 5.1 11.0 16.1
Paved lot 50-75 (65) 14 5.4 3.9 9.1
Dairy Free stall 85-95 (92) 8 3.6 3.9 10.0
Tie stall
Loose housing
70-85 (80) 10 4.2 3.9 10.0
Swine Liquid 90-99 (96) 7 3.2 5.0 4.0
Solid 40-70 (50) 16 6.4 6.9 5.6
Poultry Layers (solid)
Belt cage
30-60 (40) 60 40.0 70.5 24.2
Layers (solid)
Deep pit
30-60 (50) 48 32.0 56.3 20.1
Layers (liquid) 85-95 (90) 12 8.0 11.5 4.8
30-50 (35) 68 38.9 43.5 24.2
Breeders 30-50 (35) 60 34.3 43.5 24.2
Turkey Breeders 30-50 (35) 35 20.0 27.0 15.1
Horses Feedlot 30-60 (50) 30 15.0 10.5 25.2
PMU 50-80 (75) 12 6.0 6.0 12.1
Cervid Elk & Deer 25-50 (35) 13 3.9 9.8 12.1
Bison 25-50 (35) 13 3.9 9.8 12.1
Sheep Ewes w/lambs
30-65 (50) 20 8.0 9.8 25.2
Lambs 30-65 (50) 14 5.6 9.8 25.2

*Adapted from Appendix A-1 in 2000 Code of practice for responsible livestock development and manure management (AGDEX 400/27-2)
Total N, Total P2O5, Total K2O include nutrients that are in the mineral (immediately plant-available water soluble) form and nutrients in the organic form that must undergo microbial decomposition in order to be plant-available. Available Nitrogen is the mineral form (usually ammonium) of Total N. Available Nitrogen is immediately plant-available but is also the form of nitrogen that is prone to losses through volatilization or gassing off.
Nutrient composition is on a wet product or as-applied basis.

How much manure can or should be applied?
To answer this question several factors must be considered and often many assumptions have to be made. Manure application rates can be calculated based on the soil nitrogen limits of AOPA, the nitrogen requirements of intended crops, or the phosphorus requirement of one or more years of crop production. Each of these calculations will give a different answer about how much manure can be applied (with the AOPA basis allowing for the greatest amount of manure in most situations and the phosphorus basis being the most restrictive). Assumptions must be made about the proportion of the nitrogen or phosphorus that is in the mineral form, the nutrients that are mineralized each year, and the nutrient loss after application that never becomes part of the soil-plant system. Putting Theory Into Practice: A Nutrient Management Planning Case Study provides practical examples of calculating manure application rates. The Alberta Manure Management Planner is another useful tool for planning manure applications.

Regulations are only a starting point for responsible manure management
It is important to remember that AOPA regulations are only a starting point for manure management. Efficient use of manure as a fertilizer replacement or as a resource is not really addressed by AOPA. For additional information about using manure responsibly, from a non-regulatory perspective, refer to the Tri-Provincial Manure Application and Use Guidelines: Alberta Version


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