Want to train animals on BC farmland? It matters what kind
Agricultural land is for horses, not dogs.
Specifically in this case: for horse training but not dog training.
A recent proposal before the City of Abbotsford’s agricultural advisory committee illustrates the prized position horses continue to have when it comes to BC’s restrictive farm rules.
Five years ago, the owner of a large Bradner property built a 13,000-square-foot covered barn on his property to train horses. He then filled the barn with special, expensive sand—and found it is a lot easier to keep that sand clean training dogs, rather than horses.
Wrong side of the farm law
The sand Harold Smith bought to fill his Ross Road barn had special felt and fiber to ease the stress on horses. But it was expensive: Smith later wrote to the City of Abbotsford that it cost him more than $35,000.
Over the ensuing years, some horses used the facility, but not many. They made too much of a mess in the expensive sand, which Smith liked to keep clean.
Dogs, on the other hand, were perfect. The facility’s owner found that the sand made his building a great training location for another beloved farm and non-farm animal: dogs.
The sand eased the stress on the joints of the dogs and the humans that ran along them. The dogs didn’t make as much of a mess as the horses.
And other places in the region used for dog agility training either had poor sand or concrete floors.
There was just one problem: it matters what sort of animals you’re training on land in the Agricultural Land Reserve, and land zoned for agriculture in the City of Abbotsford. (The two designations frequently, though not always, overlap).
Standalone horse-training facilities are allowed on ALR land. Standalone dog-training sites are not. (Although, curiously, “dog trials” held on agricultural land for agri-tourism purposes are allowed.)
So Smith was forced to apply—first to the City of Abbotsford, then to the Agricultural Land Commission—for a special non-farm use exemption that would allow the dogs to keep running in the barn.
The rules do allow training as part of kennel or dog-breeding operations. But Smith wrote that he doesn’t want to breed or board pups. He just wanted his building to be used to train them.
The first step in the pursuit for permission was a meeting of the Abbotsford Agricultural Advisory Committee, which gets to add its two cents to whether the city should endorse applications sent to the ALC.
That meeting took place earlier this month. At it, committee member Casey Pruim noted the similarities between the banned dog use and the permitted horse use.
“No offence to any horse lovers, but I guess I struggle to see the difference between horses and dogs as far as running them around a ring.”
But others wondered why the dogs needed to be trained on precious agricultural land at all.
The use of farmland for purposes not explicitly permitted by BC’s land use rules is discouraged because of the scarcity of good agricultural properties. Farmland is not only useful, but it’s much cheaper than industrial or commercial land, and there are longstanding worries that there is a slippery slope when it comes to accepting new uses for such properties.
The concern is not just that farmland will be used for purposes that aren’t strictly related to farming, but that leniency will increase the demand for agricultural properties and drive up the prices across the region.
Many also consider horses partly to blame for dwindling farm production on agricultural land, especially in Langley and Abbotsford. Owners of farm properties can receive huge tax breaks if they can show a certain level of farm income. The boarding and sale of expensive horses is a common way some owners of rural mansions and estates can hit those income thresholds without having to actually grow any food.
As for the owner of the barn, Smith looks to face an uphill battle to get official sign-off for his dog training facility.
The committee voted to recommend the city not support Smith’s application. The Ministry of Agriculture also suggested that the dog training facility shouldn’t be approved, writing that dog training should be done in commercial or industrial areas.
Abbotsford council or the ALC could still end up pursuing another course.
But if they agree to deny the application, the dog training facility could still stay. The owner would just need to jump through a couple hoops of his own: to qualify as a dog kennel, he would need to board four dogs and have a business licence.