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Delta residents blast use of blueberry cannons

Residents annoyed with the deafening sound of blueberry field cannons are being urged to take action.

Residents annoyed with the deafening sound of blueberry field cannons are being urged to take action.

More than 150 people attended a community forum organized by a group of concerned citizens Wednesday evening at the Sundance Inn in East Ladner, a community that has seen a steady increase in farms converted to blueberry crops with cannons as the preferred choice to scare away birds.

"We're going to challenge unethical farming practices. There's a lot of ethical farmers here, so we don't want to tar them all with the same brush, but we're going to go after the unethical ones," said Sandy Strukoff.

Guest speaker Kevin Mitchell with Ban the Cannons told the audience of the ongoing difficulties residents face in curbing the incessant noise. He explained some of the avenues they can take, including detailed videos and notes, as well as registering complaints with municipal hall.

Mayor Lois Jackson promised that Delta would lobby for stronger regulations.

B.C. Ministry of Agriculture guidelines allow cannons to be used from 6:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.

According to Ban the Cannons, the devices are not even necessary. Some of the alternatives for bird control proposed include netting.

Bert van Dalfsen, manager of the Ministry of Agriculture's Strengthening Farming Program, told the Optimist this week those concerned about propane cannons have several avenues to have their complaints addressed.

The B.C. Blueberry Council has a liaison officer who responds to complaints, educating neighbours and farmers on the rules governing the use of cannons.

Mitchell, though, noted the council has no enforcement powers.

Some local governments have enacted their own noise bylaws on the use of propane cannons.

Another lengthier complaint process would be through the B.C. Farm Industry Review Board, charged with administering the Farm Practices Protection Act.

Mitchell described at Wednesday's forum how lengthy and challenging the board's process really is for residents, who inevitably are told the farm in question is following normal farm practices.

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Farmers have the Farm Protection Act, aimed at protecting farmers from complaints or local government nuisance bylaws. That means farmers could challenge noise bylaws.

A safer bet for local governments is to pass a farm bylaw that has provisions for audible devices, van Dalfsen noted.

"To pass a farm bylaw, they need to be regulated under the local government, so it would first be an order-in-council decision made by cabinet. The farm bylaw would require the minister of agriculture approval to have effect," he explained.

"If you have a farm bylaw, and Delta, the Township of Langley and the City of Abbotsford all have that ability to pass farm bylaws, they would need ministerial approval, then the farmer would have to follow that farm bylaw before they would receive protection under the Farm Practices Protection Act."

About a decade ago, Delta council began a long and arduous process of trying to pass its own farm bylaws, but was rejected by the Ministry of Agriculture every time. New bylaws were eventually approved, but only after they were was carefully worded by Delta staff to follow provincial farming regulations. That means Delta can't stray too far from provincial guidelines.

However, in 2009, Delta amended its regulations, with ministry approval, implementing a mandatory break from noon to 3 p.m. in cannon firing.

Delta also managed to enact a change requiring cannons to be 300 metres from residential property, up from 200 metres, although cannons are still only required to be 200 metres from adjacent farm dwellings.

Delta council will discuss a staff report on the issue Monday.

Civic bylaws manager Hugh Davies noted the municipality is constrained by provincial regulations, but there are some measures it can take, including increasing fines, which are presently only $300.

Coun. Ian Paton said only a few farm property owners are causing all the aggravation for residents and that the absentee landowners are showing no courtesy.

Local dairy farmer Colleen Terpsma, whose property is surrounded by blueberry farms, said she's had the same frustrating problem for six years with the same neighbour.

"These cannons should be used as a last resort but these property owners see it as a first and only resort," she said.

A message was conveyed on behalf of Delta South MLA Vicki Huntington Wednesday that she has spoken to the agriculture minister about the complaints and is asking for a visitation of the guidelines as well as study of the alternatives to cannons.