Over the past few years, I have been witness to some issues concerning the construction of manure storages. Although the farms involved did everything legally correct — they followed the regulations and received all the necessary permits — the neighbors were very upset. Since we are in the process of constructing a manure storage on our farm, I have attended the public meetings on these other projects to avoid being in the same situation or to be prepared if I am. Here are some of the lessons I have learned.
1. Provide Updates
Keeping our neighbors informed of the activities and projects we plan to do in the vicinity of their homes is paramount. In attending the public meetings on these projects, I have been dismayed by the unwillingness of farmers to inform their neighbors and local government officials of their manure storage plans. Many times, the neighbors learned of the impending storage when the excavator was unloaded from the trailer. This lack of communication fuels feelings of fear and helplessness among the neighbors. Involving the neighbors early in the discussion allows for issues to be resolved when changes are easy (and cheap) to make.
2. Respect Your Neighbors
Agriculture can generate plenty of noise, odors and dust that are undesirable to the non-farmers whose residences are surrounded by our farm business. We need to respect our neighbor’s right to a desirable place to live. The fact that the farm was here first is not an excuse for not being courteous. Keeping mud off the roads, not spreading manure near a house around holidays, and going to the “back 40” when doing field work very early or late are just a few examples of the many ways we can be good neighbors. Making small deposits into the “goodwill bank” year round can pay huge dividends later on.
3. Be Understanding
I view manure storage as being good for our farm. It is a critical component of sustainable, environmentally friendly farming practices. I am proud and excited that we are doing this project, and I want our neighbors and community to be as well. If an issue should arise, the farm bureau will be one of the first organizations I will call for help. With the new New York CAFO permit dictating an increased need for storages, our attitude as farmers toward our neighbors needs to change. Hiding behind the shield of the Right to Farm Law to bully our neighbors into accepting these needed projects is not a good strategy.
4. Straight From the Horse’s Mouth
We need to let our neighbors know what we are planning and why. It is important to show them what measures we are taking to minimize any negative impacts on them. We should emphasize the positives and demonstrate how we are concerned about them. And most importantly, they need to hear the information directly from us, the farmer. Not someone else.
If they have questions, we should be the most accessible source. I admit I’m not a people person. But being nervous about approaching people only proves that I am human. We have to be willing to talk to others despite this and show that we care. At the end of the day, this is all they really want to know.
5. Be Involved
Having farmers involved on local government boards is helpful. There are times when well-intentioned people submit requests for laws that are overly restrictive to agriculture. We need people on these boards who understand agriculture to prevent these requests from affecting us. Ag and Markets may protect us and void restrictive laws that pass, but it is better to stop them in their infancy.
We began planning our manure storage a few years ago. In determining its location, being away from houses and not visible from the highway were the first requirements. Although not required, I have met with our town planning board three times updating them on our plans. I gave them full access to the engineered plans and gave them every opportunity to suggest changes they felt appropriate. We have also met with some of our closer neighbors. We took them to the site of the proposed storage, showed them the engineered plans, explained why we needed the storage and answered all the questions.
Editor’s note: This article was written by Paul Fouts from the New York Farm Bureau.