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0406 ANM: Scratch and sniff redux: Odor complaints float away

Ernie Birchmeier Published on 26 June 2006

Complaints about the smell of farms in Ottawa County, Michigan, have wafted away on the wind, thanks in part to a tri-fold brochure. Nearly three years ago, the county first produced the brochure, titled “If you are thinking about moving to the country,” which included a small panel where people could scratch and sniff an accurate whiff of cattle manure.

The story was reported worldwide, said Mark Knudsen, director of planning and grants with the county, making it as far as Paul Harvey News and Commentary and international broadcasts. Last year the story “went big again,” Knudsen said, finding air time on CNN.

“It seems to have driven home the point that you shouldn’t move to the country if you aren’t ready to embrace standard farming practices,” he said. “In other words, no whiners allowed.”

And it seems to have worked.

“At least through 2005, odor complaints to Ottawa County fell to zero at the county level,” he said. “Maybe it’s not directly tied to the brochure, but I have to believe there is some correlation. People can better recognize agricultural practices and are more aware of what to expect, and if they want to complain, they know they don’t have much of a foot to stand on.”

Complaints to the Michigan Department of Agriculture’s Right to Farm program from Ottawa County are remarkably low, said Wayne Whitman, program director. Four odor complaints were taken in 2003, he said, but only one in 2004 and five in 2005. One has been taken so far this year.

“Typically, there would be eight to 12 from Ottawa County,” Whitman said. “One of the five in 2005 was from a farmer who wanted to make sure he was following acceptable practices.”

Complaints filed don’t necessarily mean a farmer is mismanaging manure, Whitman said. But if a homeowner knows ahead of time what smells, sounds and sights might happen and when, everyone involved benefits.

“If a scratch-and-sniff brochure helps buyers make an informed decision, that’s good for everyone,” he said.

Not only does the brochure explain about odors, but it addresses what newcomers to the country should expect, including noise and dust, late-night machinery operation, slow-moving farm equipment on roads and pesticide and fertilizer applications. But the pride and joy of the brochure comes just after this little couplet: “If of this odor you’re in doubt, scratch n’ sniff and you’ll find out.”

It creates a good laugh, but it also helped people understand that county life isn’t all roses and strawberries, according to Curt Carini, owner of Carini and Associates Realtors.

“Farmers need all the breaks they can get,” he said. “They provide all our food and maybe our fuel in the future. The brochure has been a great tool. People find it humorous, but it makes the point that farming is part of the deal if you move to the country.” ANM

—From Michigan Farm Bureau website Copywrite 2006 Progressive Dairy Publishing. All Rights Reserved.

Ernie Birchmeier, Livestock and Dairy Specialist, Michigan Farm Bureau

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