COLUMN: Into the breach against blueberry cannons

Like all wars, this one must come to an end, some day, when reason and regard for human well-being overcome politics and profit.

Another summer … another artillery war in the blueberry fields.

Like all wars, this one must come to an end. And it will, some day, when reason and regard for human well-being eventually overcome politics and profit.

I refer, of course, to the infernal propane cannon.

It is unfathomable how the absurd notion of creating a succession of deafening blasts all day long to scare off birds could become a standard farming practice – actually protected by law!

How is it possible that someone in authority and in full control of their faculties  did not consider this concept in its infancy, shake his or her head, and crisply administer the “Rejected” stamp?

No doubt the appalling proliferation of these dastardly devices was never envisioned back when they were first developed.

What began as a handful of farmers with a few acres of blueberries here and there has become an agricultural juggernaut – a crop worth $150 million in the Lower Mainland.

And money, of course, justifies many things – among them a ridiculous practice that even the growers and their guardian politicians admit is highly invasive and disruptive to others within earshot (a most appropriate term under the circumstances.)

Those who are subjected to this audible torture can take some  measure of encouragement – however slight – that some gains have been made over the years in terms of restricting the hours and frequency of the cannons’ barrages.

The mere fact that blueberry growers have an representative who does nothing else but respond to cannon complaints is an acknowledgement that they are engaging in a highly objectionable practice.

The old argument of “if you don’t like the noise, you shouldn’t have moved close to a blueberry farm” simply doesn’t reflect reality any longer.

Hundreds of thousands of acres of land that used to be planted in raspberries or corn or any number of other crops have been converted to the lucrative blueberry.

Thousands of formerly peaceful homes in the region are now under siege for three months of the year, or longer.

Many of those folks probably never even knew what a propane cannon was before one or more opened fire next door. It’s not quite like buying a home next to an airport.

Yet, even in that case, when flight paths are changed or flights are added, laying down new layers of noise over neighbourhoods, the outcry from those homeowners can be heard over the jets.

I wonder if the folks who so lightly dismiss the helpless victims of propane cannons would be so smug or stoic if they were subjected to the same or similar inescapable noise. Highly doubtful.

I had to shake my head at a recent web comment on Coun. John Smith’s intention to table a new bylaw that would toughen restrictions on propane cannons.

Some fellow suggested he ought to mind his own business.


I’d suggest this issue is very much the councillor’s business, particularly considering provincial agriculture ministers have long just bowed to old “right to farm” legislation, as though it was a papal decree. (Even if it was, the Pope has to change with the times, too…)

Smith wants to pare down the operating times of the cannons, and hike fines for non-compliance. More power to him, and any other politician with the backbone to tackle this unholy grail.

It’s not as though there aren’t viable alternatives – quite a few, actually.

There are many blueberry growers (bless their peaceful hearts) who do just fine using other options to deal with birds. Either that, or they’re willing to accept the fact that Mother Nature and farmers often have a less than ideal relationship, and conflicting imperatives just go with the turf (pun intended).

Good on Coun. Smith, and all others like him, I say. March into the breach, brave souls, and muzzle those cannons!

Andrew Holota is the editor of the Abbotsford News.