Sukh Kahlan

Sukh Kahlan

Cannon debate returns to Abbotsford council

Farmers, residents argue both sides of proposed propane cannon bylaw.

The ongoing debate over the use and regulation of propane cannons continued Monday night as council held a public hearing on a proposed bylaw to create tougher restrictions on audible bird scare devices.

The use of propane cannons, to keep birds away from berry crops, is protected by the provincial Right to Farm Act and farmers must follow guidelines set out by the ministry of agriculture.

The city does not have the authority to enforce those guidelines. To further regulate cannons, the city must create a “farm bylaw” that requires approval from the ministry.

At Monday’s meeting many farmers voiced their objections to any changes.

“Anybody that has been involved in farming knows that crops have to be protected from fungal disease, from weeds, from insects as well as larger predators. Some of these predators or pest include starlings,” explained Sukh Kahlan, who farms 300 acres of raspberries and blueberries in Abbotsford.

He called audible devices an effective tool to deter birds.

“However, the blueberry industry does understand that the audible devices can be a nuisance to  neighbours and for that reason the ministry of agriculture has guidelines in place.”

He suggested council find a way to enforce those guidelines.

Mike Welte, president of the Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce, said when a committee was first created to look into the cannon issue, it appeared it would “consider a wide range of input and information in order to determine the best possible solution for all concerned.”

But he said subsequent comments by committee members suggested that “the ultimate intention of the proposed bylaw  was the eventual elimination of audible bird scare advices.”

Jason Smith, who was representing the BC Blueberry Council said the group  supports a bylaw to assist with non-compliant growers, but not the city bylaw which changes the current guidelines.

“This bylaw was developed with an extremely flawed process, when both industry representatives felt they were not represented.”

But other speakers urged council to approve the new restrictions.

“I speak as a father who hopes to raise his family, not surrounded by the constant barrage of artillery that has come to be known as common farm practice,” said Trent Loewen, a family physician in Abbotsford.

He told council the ministry guidelines are not strong enough and the constant exposure to the loud cannons pose health risks.

He said according to the manufacturer, some cannons used today produce a sound as loud as 146 decibels.

“That’s eight times louder than the threshold for hearing damage in children.”

A vote on the proposed bylaw has been deferred until the first council meeting in July.

Abbotsford’s proosed bylaw would require farmers to pay a registration fee of $50 to use cannons, plus an additional cost of $25 per cannon. Farmers would also have to put a sign on their land stating that they use cannons, and provide a telephone number in case of complaints.

The cannons would only be able to operate from 7 a.m. to noon, and 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. The current ministry guideline is 6:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.  The cannons would be allowed to fire four times per hour for single-shot devices, and three times for multi-shot devices). Currently, single-shot devices may fire up to 12 shots per hour, and multi-shot up to 11 times.

The bylaw would also limit the use to a maximum of one device per two hectares of land, which must be located a minimum of 300 metres from neighbouring homes, dog kennels and buildings that hold livestock. The ministry guidelines currently allow cannons within 200 metres of neighbouring homes and has no restrictions for proximity to livestock.

The bylaw would also stop any new farms from using the devices. It would also imposed fines of $250 for most violations, and $500 fines for using cannons outside of set hours, exceeding the firing frequency and contravening setback rules.