Despite rule changes, brewing on Fraser Valley farmland remains nearly impossible

Hop growers can't take advantage of provincial rule changes said to mimic regulations for wineries.

Hops farms are becoming more plentiful in the Fraser Valley

Those hoping to brew beer next to their hop fields in the Fraser Valley may still be out of luck, despite a policy change last year intended to put breweries and wineries on an equal footing.

Last June, the province announced that breweries could operate on the Agricultural Land Reserve if half of the goods used to make the beer was grown on site.

The move was intended to match similar guidelines for B.C. vineyards. However, a report by Abbotsford city staff from earlier this year suggests brewing beer on ALR land may be impossible in the Fraser Valley. And there is no evidence that any brewers have taken the province up on their offer.

• • • • •

The barley and hops used to make beer play very different roles in the brewing process. The barley forms the base of the beer, and generally makes up between 96 and 99 per cent of the dry materials. Hops, meanwhile, give beers – especially increasingly popular craft brews – their unique character. They are much more expensive, per pound, than barley and rarely make up more than four per cent of a beer’s ingredients.

For those looking to brew on agricultural land in the Fraser Valley, that’s a problem because while hops are grown on more of the region’s increasingly expensive farmland, barley is not.

The city report – which came in response to an applicant who hoped to brew raspberry beer on a farm property – noted that while barley could be grown here, “the cost of land and large quantity of malt barley used in brewing makes barley somewhat impractical as a crop, as it is not economically feasible.”

In the case of the applicant, the farm would only be able to grow 28.1 per cent of their input, despite proposing to grow both hops and raspberries on site.

The proposed brewery faced other challenges – it was proposed for a small parcel of land where no hops had yet been planted and that was already being used in unauthorized ways.

But the report suggests that despite hop-growing returning to the region, other potential brewers wouldn’t be able to take advantage of the province’s rules.

According to the minutes of a spring meeting, most members of the city’s agriculture committee “agreed that the legislation for breweries was not well suited to the Fraser Valley, and that the ALC needs to look into changing the 50 per cent rule, aligning it closer to the current winery requirements.”

Josh Vanderheide of Field House Brewing Co. said he favoured having breweries connected to agricultural land, even though his operates in a commercial space.

“I think people are not aware enough of what we are able to produce in our own backyard. Having more agri-tourism or businesses that get people out there to appreciate our farm heritage and locally grown products is a great step in the right direction.

Others, though, argue breweries don’t belong on agricultural land.

A report submitted earlier to the city suggested that the region’s agricultural land base would be best protected if businesses that could operate in industrial or commercial areas did so.

Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce executive director Allan Asaph has also noted that operating traditionally industrial business on farmland may give those operations an unfair advantage because taxes and land prices may be lower.

• • • • •

Agriculture Minister Norm Letnick said the new rules were formulated to mimic those that allow vineyards to operate wineries on agricultural land.

But while wineries in B.C. may establish co-ops that allow them to exchange and use products produced elsewhere in the province, breweries cannot. That means an Abbotsford hop producer could not use barley produced in the Peace Region to meet its 50 per cent quota.

Letnick said the current policy “was brought in after extensive consultations with British Columbians and this was where we were directed to land.”

“Does that mean that every part of the province can take advantage of every policy lever? No.

“If it’s not working in the future, then I would encourage the government of the day to have a look at it,” Letnick told The News.

“If that’s something that’s not happening, then that’s something we’d like to know about.”

 

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