Cannon use at Saanich farm under fire

Beckwith Farm has attracted the attention of neighbours for its use of propane cannons to keep birds from eating fruit crops.

A Saanich farm is drawing the ire of nearby residents who say its owners have used a particularly noisy and heavy-handed method to scare off birds.

Beckwith Farm, a 50-acre blueberry plot operated by Island Berry Company, has attracted the attention of neighbours for its use of propane cannons to keep Canada geese and other birds from eating fruit crops.

“Simply put, we believe that it’s never been a normal farm practice to blast cannons in the Blenkinsop Valley,” said Mark Falck, who in July was the first person to formally file a complaint about the cannons’ use. “It’s never been done in a hundred years down there.”

Falck’s complaint, along with those of 14 other neighbours, dates back to April 2010, when the cannons were first used. Although the firing has since stopped, Falck wants to ensure there’s no chance it will resume in the future.

“These guys won’t agree not to use cannons. They want to use the right-to-farm act to have that in their arsenal,” he explained.

Because the farm is part of the Agricultural Land Reserve, Saanich has little power to resolve the issue, mayor Frank Leonard said.

“We wrote to the provincial government saying we objected to cannons in farm situations in a residential area,” Leonard said. “The minister said it was an issue that should be handled by the B.C. Farm Industry Review Board.”

Leonard added that the municipality has sought intervenor status so it may be able to take action to resolve the dispute. The Broadmead Area Residents’ Association is pursuing similar measures.

“We want to support the neighbours in any way that we can,” said Leonard.

The farm review board is in the midst of looking into the complaints. A hearing has been scheduled for January at which time the board will rule on the validity of each complaint. So far, it has agreed to hear the first four.

In the meantime, the board hosted a meeting at a Saanich hotel last Monday to clarify the complaint process and answer questions from residents.

Board representatives maintained they would prefer to mediate a resolution between the parties without resorting to the legal system.

Representatives of Island Berry Company did not respond to a request for comment by the News’ deadline.

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