Posted July 2008

“What is that smell? Oh, it’s probably just another hog barn! Will these farmers ever stop building these barns that just reek? They make our entire town smell!”

Sound familiar? Have you ever heard comments like this in your area? Is your community questioning odor that may be coming from your farm? Larry Jacobson, professor and extension engineer at the University of Minnesota, conducts research on air emissions from livestock farms. He facilitated a seminar on managing odor at the 2008 World Pork Expo in Des Moines and offered several ideas that may help producers minimize odor.

Odor management plans
Even though most hog farmers do not prefer the smell of a confinement building or a hog farm, they understand that it is just one thing they have to deal with to make a profit. Jacobson claims that there are a few simple steps to minimizing odor. The first step is to have an odor management plan in place. An odor management plan is one that identifies potential odor sources on the farm and determines which of the odor sources is going to generate the most complaints. Having an odor management plan also encourages a producer to list one or two odor control strategies for each significant odor source. Lastly, the odor management plan encourages farmers to develop a protocol to respond to odor complaints.

There are a few important things to keep in mind when creating a protocol system. To start, it is important to remember to separate serious odor complaints from the non-serious odor complaints that are usually just made by an upset neighbor. Secondly, it is important to have a number of serious complaints before one implements odor control technology. Finally, one must justify implementing the odor control technology. Consider the time and money that will be spent to implement the technology and ask yourself if there is really a serious problem or if you just have a few disgruntled neighbors.

Jacobson has conducted several different studies with the University of Minnesota. These studies took into consideration several different scenarios. Through his investigation, Jacobson did not find that one odor technology was better than another. All of the odor technologies that were tested showed some change in odor, but none of them provided the perfect solution to eliminating odor altogether. The odor technologies that were evaluated included biofilters, windbreaks, biocurtains, shelterbelts, chimneys, stacks, fans, ozonation, chemical additives and permeable covers such as straw or geotextile covers.

Some say you can choose your friends, but you can’t always pick your neighbors. An important issue to keep in mind when working with any hog operation is to take into consideration who your neighbors are. Are they going to be upset when hog manure is hauled? To keep your neighbors happy, create a good neighbor policy. Do not stir your pits or haul manure on holidays or on the weekends. Another great idea is to let your neighbors know when you are going to be hauling manure so they are aware that there may be a little odor in the area for a few days. Also, remember not to haul when there are strong winds blowing toward neighbors’ homes.

Farm appearance
The first impression is always a lasting impression, which leads to the next point. To control odor emissions, do a little house keeping. Keep your farm and buildings tidy and your place presentable. People will be less likely to judge and complain about the smell if they see a clean and presentable-looking farm. They will see that the farmer is doing his best to make the community look and smell presentable. Also, when hauling manure, be sure to clean up any spills on the roadways and around your farm immediately.

When posed with the question, “What is that smell?” we all wish we could answer, “It’s the smell of money!” Hopefully within the next few years and through the work of scientists like Jacobson, we will have technologies that will present us with the perfect solution to eliminating odor emissions within the livestock industry.

For more information regarding this issue, visit the University of Minnesota’s web site on managing air and water quality.