Nova Scotia’s largest agricultural export is in the middle of a significant boon, but people who live near mink farms say enough isn’t been done to curb environmental issues.

Mink is worth $140 million a year. The growing demand is thanks largely to China and Russia. The province produces half of Canada’s mink.

But people who live near mink farms say the success comes at too much of a cost. Mink farms are being blamed for polluting land, lakes and rivers. The farms produce about 50,000 tonnes of manure a year in southwest Nova Scotia.

In Digby County, people who live near Little Lake Doucette say manure and mink urine from one farm poured into their lake after heavy rain last year. They claim it turned their lake brown.

The province says it has tested the ground and water but has not found any evidence of contamination.

Christien Deveau, who grew up in the area, says there needs to be a solution to this man made problem.

He said he worries his baby will never swim in the lake. 

Arthur Pick, who is in charge of new fur industry regulations for the department of agriculture, said the farm in question is closed and his staff found no problems when they investigated in June.

A Dalhousie University water quality expert looked at the residents own water tests. The only problem he found was the discolouration.

No one could determine the cause.

That has left residents like Deveau are frustrated.

“I don't want the Mink farms to go, it's an incredible employer,” he said. “But without government and people acknowledging there is never going to be an end to it.”

European solutions 

Farmers say the industry has evolved, and new rules and attitudes are changing how mink farms work.

Dan Mullin, a mink farmer near Waterville, N.S, is the president of the Nova Scotia Mink Association. He has about 17,000 of the critters.

He agrees farmers have made mistakes in the past. But Mullin said new rules set to be enforced in 2016 will change the industry.

“We can all come up to standard so we can be sustainable in the long term,” he said. “Because if we can't maintain a public license to operate then we're not going to be in business.”

Several mink farmers are borrowing European ideas to solve the mink poop problem.

Max Barr is president of Southwest Eco-Energy and a mink farmer. His company, co-owned by several mink farmers, has built an anaerobic digester. It separates methane gas from the manure which will be turned into power for nearby towns such as Digby, and the leftover solids will be used for fertilizer.

Once up and running, it will take 15,000 tonnes of mink poop a year and there are plans to install two more machines.

Barr said just about every farm in Europe has digesters making power. He said they sell it to the power company.

He said Nova Scotia is about 30 years behind some aspects of farming innovation. Dairy farms in Ontario and in the U.S. are also using anaerobic digesters.

Pellet plants on the way

Another group of mink farmers are building a pellet plant nearby. They are hoping to have it up and running in January. The manure is dried and pressed into pellets and burned for fuel.

That facility will process about 24,000 tonnes of manure a year.

Dan Mullin said the two facilities will use nearly all of the local mink manure produced. He said ironically, there could be a shortage of manure in the province once they’re up and running.

Local residents say these innovations are heading in the right direction, but they also say they do little to help them with the problems their lakes and rivers are facing today.

With files from Stephen Puddicombe