B.C. hops farming breweries threatened by agricultural land regulations - InfoNews

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B.C. hops farming breweries threatened by agricultural land regulations

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March 15, 2017 - 9:00 PM

KELOWNA - A petition that has garnered nearly 3,000 supporters is hoping to change agriculture regulations that are threatening breweries operating on agricultural land.

Two breweries in B.C., including one in the Shuswap, say they have been told a change in legislation that doesn’t allow hops growers to use agricultural land for beer could put them out of business.

The petition, addressed to Agriculture Minister Norm Letnick, is asking the province to update the current ALR regulations to allow farm-based breweries. Currently, they have to produce 50 per cent of the product that goes into their beer from their own farmland. That does not include hops, as it is not considered a main ingredient in beer, according to the Ministry of Agriculture.

The requested change would allow hops to be considered a farm product, and therefore go towards the 50 per cent threshold. 

For two B.C. companies, this change would mean their craft breweries could stay in operation. 

Crannóg Ales, located in Sorrento about halfway between Salmon Arm and Kamloops, is currently being threatened by the regulation because the 17-year-old brewery is on a 10-acre hops farm. The organic craft brewery opened in 2000 after receiving approval from the Agricultural Land Commission. 

"At that time, there were no breweries on agricultural land and there were only about eight microbreweries/pubs in the whole province anywhere," Crannóg says on its website. 

The brewery's operational footprint fell within the on-farm regulations at the time so they did not need to apply for any special exemption from the commission. 

"At the time, they suggested that we write an application simply so that they could base further decisions on it. We wish we had followed that advice, since here we are 17 years later being told that we don't exist and are not allowed to do what we have been doing for so long."

Persephone Brewing Company in Gibsons, B.C. has recently been told they have two years to vacate their property after the Commission said the business did not adhere to the new regulations. Persephone grows hops for producing their beer.

“As the industry grows, we are seeing an explosion of hop farmers and the potential to grow much greater,” Ken Beattie, the executive director of the B.C. Craft Brewers Guild says. “There were less than 50 breweries four years ago, now there’s 125, with another 25 planned this year.”

Beattie, who signed the petition, says due to the rapid growth of the industry he can understand why it’s hard for the province to keep up. However, he says it’s the province’s job to regulate land use, not the specific crops grown.

“The difficulty is that 50 per cent is measured by weight and hops doesn’t weigh much — it’s a flower that grows on a vine,” Beattie says. “But hops is like the salt and pepper for beer, and the grain is like the steak.”

While barley is counted towards the 50 per cent threshold regulation, the grain has to go through an extensive malting process in order to be properly used in the beer making process. According to Dwayne Stewart, general manager of B.C. Hop Company, barley requires a large amount of land to be grown and is much more difficult to cultivate than hops. Stewart has also signed the petition. 

“The government is worried about breweries moving in on farmland, but this is counter-productive,” Stewart says. “I don’t think the change would be a threat to the ALR but an improvement.”

The issue to be more concerned about, Stewart says, is waste management.

“Hop-farming breweries have to have a strong waste management solution so they’re not harming the land they’re working on, no one can argue with that,” Stewart said.

B.C. Agriculture Minister and Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick says the 50 per cent threshold was a provision made after extensive consultation in 2015.

“Our goal is to protect farm land while protecting farmers,” Letnick says. “The regulations don’t stop land owners from making an application to the land commission, then it’s really a case by case basis.”

Letnick says while farmers are free to grow crops, since it’s not the main ingredient in beer, it doesn’t count towards the 50 per cent threshold.

“Many breweries are located on commercial land, if land owners want to set up a brewery on agricultural land, they are welcome to apply,” Letnick said.

Although Beattie says the province has been great partners with the beer industry, he says the way wineries, cideries and meaderies are treated, varies greatly from how breweries are treated.

“If you open a winery and can’t produce 50 per cent of the grapes to go towards your wine, you can go to another farm and get grapes. In the beer industry you can’t do this,” Beattie says.

Beattie says the beer industry is following the wine industry's legacy in B.C. and it is growing at a rapid pace. 

“Beer is not tied to regions — you can make beer anywhere in the province, and people are starting to,” Beattie says.

According to Beattie, B.C. craft beer makes roughly $220 million in revenue a year. Domestic beer sales in B.C. on average reach $200 million per quarter.

Following the lead of the wine industry, breweries are catering more to the tourism culture.

The B.C. Ale Trail currently has seven self-guided tours, and according to Beattie, five more are about to pop up.

“Breweries will encourage and stimulate growth in the economy,” says Beattie. “With these simple changes to the ALR, it will level the playing field.”

To contact a reporter for this story, email Jenna Hickman or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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