Deputy Mayor Ross Bartley, pictured with producer Mick Unwin, firmly believes farmers need greater freedom when it comes to the use of scare guns to protect their livelihoods.
Deputy Mayor Ross Bartley, pictured with producer Mick Unwin, firmly believes farmers need greater freedom when it comes to the use of scare guns to protect their livelihoods. Jenna Cairney

Council gives farmers relief, ditches scare gun policy

PRODUCERS who use scare guns and hail cannons to protect their crops will be given greater rights to farm after the Southern Downs Regional Council removed its policy surrounding their use.

The policy, which restricted the hours scare guns and hail cannons could be used and made the council responsible for following up noise complaints, has been the subject of much debate within the council in recent years.

Only complaints where there is a significant breach of environmental policies will be investigated by the council as it looks to strike a balance between reasonable residential amenity and the right to farm.

For Freestone producer Ronnie Mauch, the removal of the scare gun policy will mean greater protection for his cereal crops.

"It's pretty silly some of the rules they had," he said.

"If you could imagine only being allowed to have the scare gun going off every nine minutes, imagine how much the birds would eat in eight-and-a-half minutes.

"If they're bad you need it going off every three minutes."

In his five years of using scare guns, Mr Mauch had received only one complaint - which included a letter from the council issuing him a warning.

"Most people say it's just part of living in the country," he said.

"We've got one gun down near the Hermitage - I've got a local farmer down there turning it off at night."

As a producer who has used scare guns in the past, Deputy Mayor Cr Ross Bartley knows all too well the effectiveness of scare guns.

Cr Bartley said he believed the council had been too restrictive on producers with the policy.

"For them to come and get permits for scare guns when the birds are eating them out of house and home is ridiculous," he said.

"Removing the policy means they (producers) can use scare guns or gas guns without applying for a permit."

Without scare guns, the stunning fields of sunflowers that draw thousands of tourists to the region each year wouldn't exist, according to Cr Bartley.

"They are one of the crops favoured by birds - they become quite addicted to them," he said.

"If we can't grow them and protect them with scare guns, why do we bother?"

There was strong support surrounding the removal of the policy from a number of other councillors, particularly those with strong rural backgrounds such as Jamie Mackenzie, Vic Pennisi and Cameron Gow.

According to Cr Mackenzie, the council didn't have the resources to respond to and investigate complaints.

"I think we should just delete this policy," he told a meeting of the council last week.

"We shouldn't be using our staff to solve a state government problem."

As a Granite Belt-based councillor, Vic Pennisi knows a number of his constituents who use hail cannons and scare guns to protect their crops.

An outspoken critic of the council's policy, Cr Pennisi said he would happily defend his position on the grounds of protecting farmers trying to make a living.

"To say hail cannons can only be used between 5am and 9pm - what? - storms aren't going to come at midnight," he said.

"Can we say that hail cannons can't be used in that time?

"I don't believe for one minute we can regulate hail cannons which have government approval."

Fellow Stanthorpe-based councillor Cameron Gow said noises from agriculture were expected in a rural area, and he had received calls from neighbours about getting noise complaints when harvesting at night.

"The amount of noise generated by tractors harvesting at night can be no different on a still night to hail cannons or scare guns," he said.

"We're not going to stop a farmer at night or the hail cannons going at midnight on Christmas during a storm."

However, there were some councillors who were hesitant about removing the policy.

Cr Neil Meiklejohn said he believed removing the policy could make the situation worse. "There is a lot going on in my mind on this issue," he said.

"This guideline started out its life as a State Government guideline.

"The point of the guideline is to reinforce the point of what is or is not under legislation for all parties."

The council voted 7-2 in favour of deleting the policy, as well as referring all future noise complaints to the State Government.

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