By Connor Lynch
BURFORD — Would-be hog farmers in Brant County are taking their case to a tribunal after the county refused to let them build a barn and even their local Ontario Federation of Agriculture delegate opposed them.
Fourth-generation farmers Leah and Dries Keizer moved to Burford, just west of Brantford in Brant County, a year ago. Last year, they applied to build a hog barn on their property, in the neighbourhood of the small town of 1,600.
The application included an adjustment to the Minimum Distance Separation (MDS), the minimum setback required for different types of agricultural operations. The town was too close to the proposed barn to meet the MDS. The adjustment would have cut one setback from 418 metres to 310, and another from 836 to 692.
Staff decided that the variance was minor and recommended that council approve it.
Residents kicked up a stink. The decision was to be made last October, but ended up getting put off until late December to allow for more public comments.
At the Dec. 20 meeting, 17 people — 15 against the new barn — showed up, including Brant County Federation of Agriculture director Larry Davis, and local federation representative Sandra Vos. Most concerns were about odour or about the decision to reduce the MDS.
Davis, speaking with Farmers Forum, said that had the barn been approved, the farmers never would’ve heard the end of complaints, and letting the barn go up inside the MDS meant those people had a right to complain. “He would continually be back defending his position to the county, and then the community would set more and more restrictions.”
“I want this operation in the community, but not where they propose it to be.”
Davis added that another farm in the area, a mushroom farm about eight miles away, has spent millions of dollars trying to satisfy complaints from residents and businesses. Even eight miles away, he can smell the farm, Davis said. His cash crop farm is about five miles from the proposed site of the hog farm.
He added that the proposed 14-metre-by-118-metre barn proposed could hold many more than the 1,200 hogs Keizer said he would be housing in it. “Once it’s approved, he could go ahead and fill the barn.” The Keizers, however, said the “humane barn” was designed to give the hogs more room.
Said Davis: “I really wanted to help the farmer get through this. In the end, I was protecting the MDS. By protecting that, I’m protecting agriculture and residents.”
Retired pig farmer Curtiss Littlejohn disagreed and told municipal council that in his 35 years farming less than a kilometre away from the village of Glen Morris, about 20 minutes northeast of Burford, he’d heard no complaints nor heard of any issues with housing prices. Littlejohn also happens to be only resident living inside the 418-metre boundary of the proposed barn. “I’m the one resident impacted by the barn and I have no issue with it.”
Davis, is “standing by the status quo,” Littlejohn said. “If the MDS can’t be met, the barn shouldn’t be allowed.” But that’s a narrow stance in Littlejohn’s view, and ignores the fact that municipal planners recommended the barn be approved after a careful analysis of the situation.
The whole issue only came up for public consultation because the Burford settlement line follows a creek, which pushes just close enough to bring the proposed project into dispute with the MDS, Littlejohn told Farmers Forum. “If (Burford) had followed normal cartography or planning practices, then there wouldn’t have been any opposition. There wouldn’t have been any conflict.”
The Keizers used to be OFA members, but have since quit and joined the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario, Littlejohn said.
Nutrient management specialist Nancy VanSas prepared the MDS calculation for the farm and pointed out that a nutrient management plan takes odour into account, as well as the fact that the barn would be a low-odour facility and that a nearby woodlot should be a mitigating factor for odour.
Council rejected the application, defeating it 4-3. One councillor abstained, but abstaining counts as a negative vote.
The hog farmers have appealed to the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal, formerly known as the Ontario Municipal Board. Littlejohn said he expected council to face an uphill battle at the tribunal, since it went against the advice of its own expert.