Tuesday, September 25, 2012

New chicken farm on Mount Douglas X Road?

There is a small four acre lot that is ALR within an area of residential housing on Mount Douglas X Road for which the owner was seeking to remove it from the ALR to allow it be developed as housing.    Protecting farm land only makes sense if it is a viable economic farm and in the case of this property that would only be in theory possible with the sort of farming that will cause major complaints from the neighbours.    In March of 2011 Saanich council voted against supporting the removal of the land from the ALR.  The owner is now thinking of putting a chicken operation on the property.

When asked again this year the council voted 5-4 to refuse to support the removal of the land from the ALR which leaves the owner few options.  Council seems to have listened to voices opposing the removal of the land though this has primarily come from people that are not neighbours of the property.

The problem is that people pushing to protect farm lands at all cost have no understanding of farming.   A working farm is a business and not a bucolic green landscape.   Farms work with a lot of loud equipment and often have a lot of chemicals on site.   Farms are not ideal neighbours for suburban residences.

Four acres is a very small piece of land to work with as a farm especially when it is surrounded by housing.  If you were to put it all into apples you could produce about 80,000 to 100,000 pounds of fruit.   The realistic gross revenues from that would be $100,000 but the costs of production would be around $75,000 to $125,000 without a salary for the owner.  Pruning, thinning and picking all take labour.   This also assumes there is no loss in getting the fruit to market. You would have to sell about 8,000 pounds of fruit a week over a 12 week season.   This means selling at three to four farmers markets a week if you can achieve the sort of scale of sales you see in Vancouver farmer's markets.  

Almost any potentially viable farming activity on the site will be intensive farming and will cause disputes with the neighbours.  Many of the most successful small scale farm operations will require the majority of the property to be built on - the land is effectively a garry oak meadow, that will all be gone..  

A poultry farm is only one option and not the worst for the neighbours.  A mushroom operation smells even more.   Four acres of blueberries might be viable but that would mean propane cannons.    The land is the right size for composting.   If economically farmed it could be worse

The neighbours will have to learn to live with the smell of ammonia from the chickens. The chicken shit will either have to be composted on site or trucked away, either way the smell will be intense.  The poor people on the west side of Mercer Place are unlikely to want to use their backyards ever again - intense chicken crap smell is going cause a significant fall in the property values.  

Intensive farming will also mean Mount Douglas X Road will have a lot more commercial truck traffic.

The decision of council not to support the removal of the land is now only going to cause major headaches for staff.  It will also create one more location in the region where farming and people get into conflict.   The only answer is for council to reconsider their decision before too much money is put into the development of the poultry farm.
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