Being a good neighbour is an integral part of running a sustainable farm. When your farm generates odors that overspill your property lines and negatively affect your neighbours on anything like a regular basis, I think it's a fail on the part of the farm. While I recognize the need for "right to farm" laws to protect well run farm businesses from trivial lawsuits, I also think there needs to be some enforceable laws on the books to penalize farmers that routinely violate their neighbour's right to enjoy their property.
The most usual culprit in stinking up the neighbourhood is manure, most especially manure that is being agitated and/or spread out of a pit; this stinks terribly regardless of the species in question, although subjectively, I think liquid hog manure smells the worst. As an aside, I have been on quite a few farms where the eye wateringly strong smell of poorly made and poorly fermented haylage or corn silage rivalled or exceeded that of pit stored manure. Well made, well fermented silage smells just a little bit sweet but it does not smell strongly at all. As another aside, sadly (and disgustingly), there also exist some farms where there is so much endemic sickness that the entire place reeks of unhealthy, unthrifty livestock. Pity the neighbours, farmers or not, that exist downwind of that.
Farms (of any size) don't need to stink. The farm I grew up on didn't stink. The farm I live on now doesn't stink....not even right beside our manure pile while I am loading the spreader. Both the farm on which I grew up and this one were and are heavy with livestock. In my opinion, there is no acceptable excuse for an ongoing stinky, putrid smelling farm. Any system of production that imposes it's pre-ordained smell on the neighbourhood as a cost of doing business is not one we need to be supporting with our food buying dollars.
Putrid odors are too often the smell of mismanagement. They are caused by large quantities of fertilizer (ammonia nitrogen and hydrogen sulfide gas) volatilizing into the air. Many farmers don't treat manure as the valuable, soil building resource that it is, and sadly, today many farmers don't even realize that properly treated manure doesn't need to be odiferous. Referring to my last blog, farmers who share an industrial mindset treat manure as a waste product with little to no inherent value; something to be got rid of as inexpensively as possible. This linear thinking "factory ag" mindset continually bites the entire industry in the rear. The damage this train of thought does to all of us is compounded exponentially when livestock intense operations are located in fragile environments without adequate cropland acreage to safely use up the manure these operations generate.
Even improperly managed, solid manure systems seldom smell as bad as their liquid counterparts. Well managed solid manure doesn't smell at all. Ever. Not even right next to the pile, as I mentioned earlier. The reason for this is that the nitrogen contained in manure is bound up by the carbon contained in the bedding. When there is adequate carboniferous bedding material...I prefer straw, but sawdust and shavings work too, ammonia stays bound up. This dung/straw product can be composted over winter and can be safely land applied at relatively high rates in the spring, summer or fall, reducing or eliminating the need for purchased commercial fertilizer in most instances. In addition to building soil fertility, properly managed and applied solid manure also improves soil microbial activity, soil porosity and soil organic matter.
There are a lot of elements that go into running a sustainable farm. Being a good neighbour is high on my list of things that need to get done right.
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