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Salmon Arm  

Rules could shutter brewer

After operating for 17 years, changes to the Agricultural Land Reserve have a small Shuswap brewery unsure if their operation is legal.

Brian MacIsaac and Rebecca Kneen have been running Crannog Ales on a small piece of Agricultural Land Reserve land in Sorrento since January 2000.

While a small operation, their Back Hand of God Stout can be found flowing from taps throughout Kelowna.

At their outset, MacIsaac says they were the only on-farm brewery in the province.

“The ALR at the time actually rubber-stamped us for going ahead,” MacIsaac said. “They came out here a few times and really liked what we were doing.”

MacIsaac said they were told at the time that legislation didn't exist to cover their operation, but as long as it was under 100 square metres, they could operate as a home-based business.

In 2015, the province changed the ALR regulations to require non-farm use applications like breweries to produce at least 50 per cent of their product on their own land.

MacIsaac says for a small brewery, this is a “ludicrous” requirement.

Crannog has been growing its own hops on their small farm, but they buy most of their barley from Saskatchewan and Alberta. The type of barley they require can't be grown in Sorrento, and the barley must be malted, a process they need to do offsite.

“You can't just use raw barley right off the field,” MacIsaac said.

While Crannog hasn't been contacted about the ALR changes, the Sunshine Coast's Persephone Brewing, which is also located on ALR land, has been told they need to grow 50 per cent of their product onsite within the year, or face being shut down.

“We asked them about us, and they said no other breweries exist on ALR land, and we've been at it for 17 years, so we exist,” MacIsaac said.

Crannog has signed a petition with Persephone to push for changes to the ALR requirements that would allow small breweries to operate on ALR land under more feasible conditions.

The online petition, with more than 2,700 supporters as of Wednesday, is addressed to Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick, B.C.'s minister of agriculture.

Letnick says he has seen the petition and is planning to talk with the owners of Persephone.

The owners of Crannog have tried to contact Letnick as well, but Letnick says the current “message is really clear” when it comes to allowing non-farm use operations on ALR land.

“There's two ways to go about getting a non-farm use on good agricultural land,” Letnick said. “One is the path of the regulation (which includes the 50 per cent requirement) and if you can't meet the path of the regulation the other way is the path of the application to the Land Commission.”

ALR staff will be coming to check out Crannog's operation in April, and while MacIsaac says he thinks they'll be OK, he wants to “be on the ground floor of renegotiating a better policy and have some regulations that make sense.”

“We're totally in favour of ALR, we just want to make sure the right things are going in there,” MacIsaac said.

As part of the 2015 changes, wineries in B.C. are allowed to operate on ALR land if 50 per cent of their product comes from anywhere in the province, a regulation MacIsaac says would be a step in the right direction for breweries.

“Wineries have a much longer history and through the (2015) consultation it was felt that we could move to the next step with wineries,” said Letnick. “The challenge with the breweries, meateries and distilleries, is that it could open itself to a lot of non-farm use on good agricultural land.”

While Letnick says he's willing to review the proposed changes found in the breweries petition, he wouldn't be able to until after the May 9 election, as “we're in the middle of an election now.”

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