Minimum Distance Separation (MDS) Formulae

Table of Contents

1. Minimum Distance Separation (MDS)

The Minimum Distance Separation (MDS) Formulae are land use planning tools that determine a recommended separation distance between a livestock barn, manure storage or anaerobic digester and another land use. The objective of MDS is to prevent land use conflicts and minimize nuisance complaints related to odour. MDS does not account for other nuisances such as noise or dust. MDS is a ‘two-way approach’ that is made up of two separate, but related, formulae.

MDS I – provides the minimum distance separation between proposed new development and any existing livestock barns, manure storages and/or anaerobic digesters located in areas where the keeping of livestock is permitted.

MDS II – provides the minimum distance separation between proposed new, enlarged, or remodelled livestock barns, manure storages and/or anaerobic digester and existing or approved development located in areas where the keeping of livestock is permitted.

The MDS Formulae are based on five factors:

  • the type of livestock housed
  • the number of livestock housed (based on barn capacity or tillable hectares)
  • the percentage increase in the size of the operation (if expanding)
  • the type of manure system and storage
  • the type of encroaching land use

The calculated setback distances will vary based on these five factors, and will result in unique distances for different types of operations in different circumstances and locations. In Ontario's rural and prime agricultural areas, the Provincial Policy Statement, 2014, requires that new land uses, including the creation of lots and new or expanding livestock facilities, comply with the MDS Formulae. References to MDS are to be included in municipal planning documents such as zoning by-laws and official plans. Before a land use planning approval can be given, or a building permit can be issued, conformity to MDS setbacks must be demonstrated.

The most current version of the MDS is found in Publication 853, “The Minimum Distance Separation (MDS) Document Formulae and Guidelines for Livestock Facility and Anaerobic Digester Odour Setbacks.” The changes are effective as of March 1, 2017, and replace all former versions of the formulae.

Visit the OMAFRA website for more information about Publication 853.

In February 2017, you can:

  • Order the PDF version by filling out the form below.
  • Order a PDF version of the document through the Agricultural Information Contact Centre at 1-877-424-1300 or ag.info.omafra@ontario.ca.
  • Order a free hard copy version from ServiceOntario on their website or by calling 1-800-668-9938.
  • Publication 853 PDF Request Form
    * Mandatory Fields







2. History of the MDS Formulae

The concept of controlling the separation of livestock barns from other, potentially incompatible, land uses originated in Ontario in 1970 with the introduction of the document, “A Suggested Code of Practice.” To address nuisance issues associated with odour, “A Suggested Code of Practice” recommended fixed minimum separation distances between livestock or poultry barns and neighbouring houses, residential zones, lot lines and roads.

While “A Suggested Code of Practice” contained a framework for the building or expanding of livestock barns, it provided little protection for livestock operations from encroachment by other land uses. In 1976, the “Agricultural Code of Practice” was introduced to address concerns not accounted for by the previous approach. One of its significant additions was the provision of a ‘two-way approach’ to separating livestock and poultry barns from non-compatible uses, and vice-versa. It also introduced a sliding scale for separation distances to better accommodate the range of sizes and types of livestock operations that exist. The previous approach applied fixed distances, which were often either too restrictive or too lenient.

The “Agricultural Code of Practice” created two formulae that mirror the approach that is still taken in the current MDS Formulae. The MDS I formula was established to determine the minimum separation distances between proposed new development and existing livestock facilities and/or permanent manure storages. The MDS II formula was developed to determine the minimum separation distances between proposed new, enlarged, or remodelled livestock facilities and/or permanent manure storages and other existing or approved development.

In 1995, the “Agricultural Code of Practice” was replaced with three separate documents: “Guide to Agricultural Land Use,” “Minimum Distance Separation I (MDS I),” and “Minimum Distance Separation II (MDS II).” Revisions were made to the individual Minimum Distance Separation Formulae but the basic principles remained the same as the 1976 version.

In 2006, following the advice of the Agricultural Advisory Team, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) undertook an extensive review and consultation, and the individual MDS I and MDS II documents were combined into one comprehensive document called the “Minimum Distance Separation (MDS) Formulae - Publication 707.”

3. Review of the MDS Formulae (2012 to 2017)

“Minimum Distance Separation (MDS) Formulae - Publication 707” committed OMAFRA to undertaking a five-year review of the MDS to ensure it:

  • reflects current land use planning policies and practices
  • reflects current technology and trends in the livestock industry
  • continues to meet the needs of Ontario’s agriculture and rural communities

The review process for the MDS Formulae began in December 2012. In addition, following the approval of the Provincial Policy Statement, 2014 (PPS), OMAFRA committed to updating PPS guidance materials in order to support the directives laid out in the PPS, to reflect updated information and knowledge and to meet the needs of the agricultural community. The release of the most recent update of the MDS Formulae, found in Publication 853, “The Minimum Distance Separation (MDS) Document Formulae and Guidelines for Livestock Facility and Anaerobic Digester Odour Setbacks, Publication 853,” represents part of this commitment.

In order to develop Publication 853, OMAFRA staff undertook targeted consultations in order to inform specific changes to the guidance material. The consultations indicated that both stakeholders and technical users of the document generally supported the MDS as presented in Publication 707, but identified a number of minor revisions and clarifications for consideration.

A draft revised MDS document was posted on the Environmental Bill of Rights Registry on February 19, 2015, for a 90-day public review and comment period. Many of the submissions were supportive of the proposed changes to the MDS, but identified a number of minor and editorial comments. Many of these stakeholder comments are reflected in Publication 853.

The revised version of the MDS found in Publication 853 comes into effect on March 1, 2017, and replaces all former versions of the formulae. OMAFRA has committed to reviewing the Minimum Distance Separation Formulae on a periodic basis, aligned with future provincial reviews of the PPS and the Nutrient Management Act, 2002, or as needed. The reviews will ensure the document continues to reflect current land use planning practices and technological innovation within the livestock industry.

4. Changes to the MDS Formulae (2017)

In many instances, the changes found in the 2017 version of the MDS Formulae are not much different from the 2006. Mostly, the changes to the MDS Formulae are minor and technical in nature. They help to align the document with the updated PPS and clarify or elaborate on existing MDS guidelines and provisions through improved language and text. In many instances, the 2017 revisions effect when and how MDS is applied, and from where it is measured. The 2017 revisions to the values associated with the various factors in MDS are relatively minor, and the changes in the calculated MDS setbacks required between most land uses and livestock facilities are not extensive. The one significant exception to this statement is changes to MDS I setbacks related to the elimination of tillable hectares as an input to calculated setbacks and its replacement with a percentage increase based on livestock operation size and lot size.

Below is a summary of changes made to the MDS Formulae.

a) Technical changes

  • Consolidating all training materials relating to MDS, including material formerly found on the OMAFRA website, into the MDS document. In addition, new schematics will help provide additional clarity regarding specific implementation guidelines.
  • Definitions were updated in order to align with the PPS, 2014, and the Nutrient Management Act, 2002.
  • Clarifying that MDS setbacks are applied to both livestock facilities and anaerobic digesters, and harmonizing MDS setbacks for anaerobic digesters located on farms, with or without livestock, to match those specific under the Nutrient Management Act, 2002.
  • Providing clarification on what portions of the MDS Formulae and Guidance should be incorporated by municipalities into their local planning documents, and which portions of the document are provided for information or training purposes.
  • Providing clarification regarding the types of land uses that do not require MDS setbacks (e.g. extraction of minerals, aggregate and petroleum resources, infrastructure, landfills).
  • Revising the MDS to clarify the roles and responsibilities for preparing MDS setback calculations.
  • Revising the MDS Formulae to ensure that future reviews of the MDS are aligned with future provincial reviews of the PPS, 2014, and the Nutrient Management Act, 2002, or as needed.

b) Changes to both MDS I and MDS II

  • Expanding the exemption from MDS setbacks for building reconstruction due to catastrophes to include reconstruction for other reasons.
  • Clarifying that MDS setbacks for agriculture-related uses and on-farm diversified uses are applied at the discretion of a municipality. If a municipality wishes to apply MDS setbacks for agriculture-related uses and on-farm diversified uses, it should provide clear direction through its local planning documents (e.g. comprehensive zoning by-laws).
  • Reducing MDS setbacks between churches, schools and cemeteries that serve a community reliant on horse-drawn transportation and livestock facilities by clarifying that these uses will be treated as Type A land uses in both MDS I and MDS II.
  • Providing clarification regarding when municipalities can reduce MDS setbacks (e.g. minor variance applications) for reasons other than an environmental concern (e.g. public health and safety issues).
  • Updating various factors in MDS to align with current livestock production (e.g. new housing systems, adding livestock types, allowing a broader range of manure system options).

c) Changes to MDS I

  • Clarifying the application of MDS setbacks for various types of lot creation (e.g. residence surplus to a farm operation).
  • Clarifying that MDS I is applied to development (e.g. building permits) on existing lots of record, unless the municipality has adopted clear direction in their zoning by-law to exempt this requirement.
  • Clarifying that MDS I is not applied when an existing building is being renovated or added to.
  • Providing a revised method for determining Factor B for MDS I:
    • The use of ‘tillable hectares’ as a proxy to determine ‘potential housing capacity’ in MDS I has been replaced by a simplified percentage increase calculation based on lot size and livestock operation size. This will effectively reduce MDS I setbacks while still ensuring that livestock operations will be able to accommodate an expansion of their operation.
    • The cap on ‘potential housing’ has been retained, but is higher than found in previous MDS Guidelines.

d) Changes to MDS II

  • Revised MDS II setbacks between livestock barns, manure storages and anaerobic digesters by capping the setback required from a road allowance.

5. Role of Municipalities

Municipalities are responsible for ensuring that MDS setbacks are met when reviewing land use planning applications (e.g. lot creation applications) or building permits. Contact your local municipality for questions regarding the implementation of the MDS in your area if you are proposing to construct a new livestock facility, anaerobic digester or other building, or you are pursuing a land use planning application, such as an official plan amendment, zoning by-law amendment, or an application to create a new lot.

While municipalities are responsible for ensuring that the requirements of the MDS are met when reviewing land use planning applications or building permits, municipalities may implement this requirement in different ways. Some municipalities will ask an applicant to provide the information necessary for the municipality to complete the calculation of MDS. In other cases, a municipality may request that an applicant provide a calculated MDS setback. In this instance, it may be helpful for an applicant to hire a land use planning consultant or a nutrient management consultant to undertake the MDS calculation. In all cases, a municipality must review any MDS calculations to ensure they are accurate.

The revised MDS comes into effect on March 1, 2017. Under the Planning Act, land use planning decisions must be consistent with the Provincial Policy Statement (PPS). After March 1, 2017, in order to demonstrate consistency with the PPS, land use planning decisions made by municipal planning authorities will need to comply with the revised MDS. Where a building permit application triggers the requirement to meet MDS, the version of MDS that will be applied will depend on the provisions of the local municipal zoning by-law. Farmers are encouraged to check with their local municipality for information pertaining to MDS setbacks prior to building on their farm. If necessary, municipalities are encouraged to update local zoning by-laws and official plans.

6. Minimum Distance Separation – Publication 853

Publication 853, “The Minimum Distance Separation (MDS) Document Formulae and Guidelines for Livestock Facility and Anaerobic Digester Odour Setbacks,” can help you use the MDS software in AgriSuite. The publication contains the revised MDS I and II formulae that are used to determine the recommended separation distance between a livestock barn, manure storage or anaerobic digester and other land uses. The publication contains MDS definitions, factors, implementation guidelines, calculation forms, explanatory schematics and additional training information.

In February 2017, you can:
  • Order a PDF version of the document through the Agricultural Information Contact Centre at 1-877-424-1300 or ag.info.omafra@ontario.ca.
  • Order a free hard copy version from ServiceOntario:
    • By phone through the ServiceOntario Contact Centre
      Monday to Friday, 8:30 a.m to 5:00 p.m.
      416-326-5300
      416-325-3408 (TTY)
      1-800-668-9938 Toll-free across Canada
      1-800-268-7095 TTY Toll-free across Ontario
    • In person through a public access terminal available at ServiceOntario Centres located across the province

7. MDS Computer Application

OMAFRA developed computer software to help municipalities, farmers and consultants use the MDS Formulae. The software can help you to calculate MDS setbacks, and determine if a proposed land use application can meet MDS I and if a proposed building permit can meet MDS II. The software is found in Ontario’s Agricultural Planning Tools Suite, or AgriSuite.

Visit the AgriSuite web page for information on accessing AgriSuite and for help with using the MDS software. The version of the software in AgriSuite is considered the official version of the MDS software by OMAFRA for calculating setbacks in accordance with Publication 853. The previous versions of the MDS software to support MDS Publication 707 (i.e. MDS software version 1.0.0, 1.0.1 and 1.0.2) cannot be used for undertaking MDS calculations related to MDS Publication 853.

When using the MDS application, OMAFRA is not responsible for:

  • errors due to inaccurate or incorrect data or information
  • mistakes in calculations
  • errors arising out of modification of the software
  • errors arising out of incorrect inputting of data

All data and calculations should be verified before acting on them.

For help with MDS and AgriSuite, contact the Agricultural Information Contact Centre at 1-877-424-1300 or ag.info.omafra@ontario.ca.

8. Minimum Distance Separation Information Sessions

OMAFRA is offering information sessions to help municipalities implement the revised MDS, which takes effect on March 1, 2017. The sessions will be offered in November and December 2016. The sessions will introduce users to the revised MDS concepts and guidelines and the AgriSuite application. The intended audiences for these sessions are municipal building officials, land use planners, zoning enforcement, members of land division committees or committees of adjustment, land use planning consultants and nutrient management consultants.

In-person English information sessions

Dates and locations:

  • November 22: Kemptville, Parish Building, 40 Campus Drive
    Registration cut-off November 15
  • November 23: Peterborough, Peterborough Naval Association, 24 Whitlaw Street
    Registration cut-off November 15
  • November 29: Mildmay, Knights of Columbus Hall, 1658 Highway 9
    Registration cut-off November 22
  • November 30: Campbellville, Mohawk Inn & Conference Centre, 9230 Guelph Line
    Registration cut-off November 22
  • December 6: London, Hellenic Community Centre, 133 Southdale Road West
    Registration cut-off November 29

English Webinar Information Sessions

Dates:

  • December 8
    Registration cut-off December 7

All information sessions are free. Registration is required for all in-person sessions as space is limited.

To register, contact Marg Templeman at 519-271-0354 or margaret.templeman@ontario.ca and indicate the information session you would like to attend.

Publication 853 includes much of the training material and information that was previously found on the OMAFRA website. If you work for a municipality, a land use planning firm or a nutrient management consulting firm and are interested in additional training opportunities related to the MDS, contact an OMAFRA Rural Planner in your area.


For more information:
Toll Free: 1-877-424-1300
E-mail: ag.info.omafra@ontario.ca
Author: OMAFRA Staff
Creation Date: 22 January 2008
Last Reviewed: 18 August 2009