Battle River proposal pits farmer against farmer

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Dear Editor:

What is so new about country residences and farmers working and living side by side along the Battle River valley? This study was initially intended to look at a broad residential plan along the Battle River Valley. It was to look at flood plains, protection for the water and environment, decide if a high end development area would be allowed. I believe council already determined that this would be a low-end country residential area with a mix of agricultural farming and a small area set out for industrial use. Water protection seems to be a very important issue to all people residing within Ponoka County. If nothing else, this plan should protect the river against possible contamination.

This plan now seems to have veered from its original purpose. It was not intended to protect the large, federally approved agriculture facilities. Ponoka County has no jurisdiction over these facilities and is unable to legally apply setback requirements for these barns. The new setbacks of 1,198m proposed in draft 6 are an infringement on other people’s property without purchase or financial compensation. These expanded setbacks can then be applied to all livestock operations, affect current land prices and restrict business practices of all farmers in the county. What makes one farm industry more important than another? This could pit one farmer against another and have unknown legal repercussions.

To inquire about present setbacks to your farm, phone the NRCB (Natural Resources Conservation Board) in Red Deer at 403-340-5795. This is the provincial governing body that looks after large animal operations.

Most of the livestock farms in this county are presently small unregistered farms or government registered confined feeding operations (CFO) or intensive livestock operations (ILO). Setbacks for a new registered dairy farm (for example) milking under 200 head (plus dry cows and young stock ) are minimal. These are set by the government to a neighbour’s residence: Category 1 306m zoned for agriculture (farmsteads or acreage residences); Category 2 – 408m zoned to non-agriculture use (country residential, rural commercial businesses); Category 3 – 510m zoned for high use recreational or commercial purposes; and Category 4 816m zoned for large-scale country residential, rural hamlets, villages, towns and cities.

If an existing dairy barn is simply increasing their cattle numbers up to 199 head of milking animals — they use a .77 factor to decrease the setbacks to neighbouring farms. Our neighbour’s dairy barn has less than 200 head. The current setbacks from his barn to a residence is 235.6m to Category 1 agriculture zoned land, and 314.2m to Category 2 county residential zoned land (low-scale development). He can expand to 200 head without these figures changing.

If this dairy wants to expand to more than 200 head of milk cows, he has to first become an approved facility. Individual farm setbacks are given by the federal government only after application and approval. The government looks at the size, distances to residences, water bodies, water wells, lagoon sizes, leakage and contamination factors, and especially the land where the manure is spread, which typically is called manure acres. For a 400-cow dairy, seven quarters of land or more could be needed so the soil does not get contaminated by the approximate volume of four million gallons of liquid manure per year.

It is a farmer’s choice to become a large approved facility. It is not a requirement. The licence, rules and setbacks are for this facility and are his responsibilities. If he does not own enough land for manure acres, the neighbouring farms can “gift” him use of their land. This gift can be taken away at any time. If this means he has to haul manure 15 or 20 miles away, it is his problem. There seems to be a natural limitation to these large facilities already. I do not think there is enough manure acres along this valley for all of the current operations to expand to 400-plus dairy animals.

It seems to me like Ponoka County is being pressured from a particular group to change federal government laws. Why should our county councillors have to worry about such a thing? Call the county office if you have concerns about your property rights, setbacks to your current farm and if you want protection for the Battle River.

Bert and Melanie Vleeming