The Delta Farmers' Institute is voicing its opposition to a regional district plan to charge farms that produce what may be considered offensive odours.
In a letter to Delta council, DFI president John Savage said Metro Vancouver's proposed Odour Management Regulation, which would establish fees to sources of odourous emissions, including agricultural uses, would drive up costs for such permitted farming practices as spreading manure on fields to grow crops.
"The imposition of such a bylaw would penalize farmers and carry a cost that would be not only extremely burdensome but also unrecoverable," Savage said.
On Monday, council discussed a staff report looking at the region's proposal to develop and implement an odour management program, which is to include a regulation that "would address key sources of odourous emissions and effective complaint management and communication processes."
The report notes the goal is to address the considerable "potential for odour impacts" from certain industrial sources, especially those from meat by-product rendering, composters and anaerobic digesters.
Several Delta farm operations have added or are looking at adding anaerobic digestion systems, which process on-farm agricultural material and some off-farm non-agricultural waste to produce renewable energy.
Metro Vancouver has developed a draft regulation that would define operations in one of three categories: low, moderate and high potential.
So-called high potential facilities would be required to obtain an air emission permit, measure or estimate odour emissions, conduct dispersion modeling to estimate odour impacts in the community and pay an annual fee of $5 per year for every person that is impacted by odour based on the dispersion modeling (to a maximum of $150,000 annually).
High potential facilities locally would include the Enviro-Smart Organics in Ladner and Earth Renu's proposed industrial anaerobic digester on Annacis Island.
Metro Vancouver facilities, including sewage treatment plants, and the City of Vancouver Landfill composting facility would be exempt because they are regulated by the province.
Odour would be measured by taking air samples and sending them to an odour lab for analysis. Presently, the closest Canadian odour lab is in Ontario.
Savage said the DFI sees the proposed bylaw as a first step to licence all farm odours.
"And, from our perspective, we do not believe 'odour' means pollution - many 'odours' that may be offensive to some are actually acceptable by the public generally. The question needs to be asked: What is next if this moves forward?"
The Delta report appears to be in agreement with most of Savage's comments, noting the proposed regulations would add new costs to existing, non-problematic Delta facilities and does not appear to provide effective mechanisms to address community odour impacts.
Coun. Ian Paton, a farmer and DFI member, said he's concerned the bylaw could go after legitimate farming practices, adding, "The history of farming is synonymous with odours."
Coun. Bruce McDonald agreed, noting the fact the Annacis Island sewage plant would be exempt "is the biggest hypocrisy of all."
CAO George Harvie told council other city managers are concerned the only stimulus for the new bylaw is revenue collection.
Coun. Scott Hamilton, who sits with Paton on Delta's agriculture committee, told the Optimist that Right to Farm legislation should protect normal farm practices from nuisance bylaws, however, Metro Vancouver has the power to regulate air quality. He thinks biggest problem for farmers would be that those wanting to diversify their operations by adding digesters would be pursued for having a non-farm activity.
There would be no requirements for so-called low potential facilities, while moderate potential facilities, such as smaller farm composting operations and some farm anaerobic digesters, would have to register, pay a one-time $500 fee, as well as develop an odour management plan that would be submitted to Metro Vancouver.
"Another major issue is that a food system is not just the farm alone - it is the complete system from farm to plate today, and this also now includes from plate to waste, so our food wastes will now also be considered 'odourous and offensive.' Waste food processing, a burgeoning business today, also find themselves in conflict with the direction of this initiative, and that could result in serious cost escalations to handle food waste products, thus possibly driving up those costs back to the point of origination - farms." said Savage.
He noted the bylaw cannot stop odours, and that this may only be a first step in trying to find new ways to expand the concept of odour control.