A popular Abbotsford beer festival won’t happen this year thanks to strict regulations about the types of events that can be hosted on B.C.’s farmland.
The BC Hop Fest has run in a Sumas Priarie field on Cole Road since 2015, attracting around 1,500 people every year. But its organizer says he has been told he can’t get the necessary permits because it isn’t selling any of the hops grown on site directly to consumers and the event has been deemed too large.
Dwayne Stewart, the co-owner of the BC Hop Company and co-founder of the festival, said the situation shows that rules need to change to better support the province’s hop growers.
“The industry is not seeing the same success as the craft beer industry,” he said, estimating that it has declined by as much as 30 per cent this year.
Stewart said many of B.C.’s growing number of craft breweries don’t buy local hops; the festival, he said, was one way for him to connect and market his hops to brewers.
To hold the event, Stewart needs both an event permit from the city and, crucially, a non-farm-use permit from the Agricultural Land Commission. He can’t get the city permit without the permit from the ALR, and has been told that it won’t be granted.
In the first few years of the event, the city didn’t require Stewart to get a non-farm use permit from the ALC.
The City of Abbotsford was informed last year that the organizers had to have a non-farm-use permit, according to an email from city spokesperson Alex Mitchell. The city needs that ministry approval before it can order to issue its own event permit.
“The City is extremely supportive of special events in our community and has been working closely with the organizers of the BC Hop Festival,” Mitchell wrote.
Last year, Stewart held the festival without a permit, but says he won’t be going that route in 2019.
“Once the question was asked, the answer was given that we don’t qualify for a permit.”
Stewart said something has to change with the regulations to help the local industry. He noted that his festival was cited by a recent list that ranked Abbotsford among the best beer towns in the country.
The event has not previously displaced farming at the site, he said, with the field in question being used to grow hay in past years.
“It’s a farm field,” he said. “We didn’t put down four acres of gravel,” alluding to a parking lot constructed for the Abbotsford Tulip Festival.
The BC Liberals issued a press release Tuesday blaming the situation on the NDP.
“The event organizers have specifically cited provincial government policy as an issue, but the NDP refuses to support this struggling industry,” agriculture co-critic Ian Paton said in a press release.
A provincial spokesperson noted that the BC Hop Fest didn’t apply for a permit and that, had they applied, the ALC would have made a decision. The spokesperson said rules about events were established in 2016 by the previous government.