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Public perception may become public policy

Rick Martens for Progressive Dairyman Published on 23 February 2018
Public perception

Public policy and regulation is driven by many factors, and public perception is a major component. Avoiding negative public perception is one measure that may help avoid restrictive, unnecessary regulation.

As the face of agriculture is changing, we have fewer people actively engaged in farming and, therefore, fewer people exposed to the daily routines. The demand for increased efficiency and profitability in agriculture has led to larger farms and fewer family connections.

Many of our metropolitan neighbors, as well as our rural neighbors, are multi-generations removed from actively farming. The sights, sounds and smells are not familiar, or if they are, are offensive to them. But to be fair, we as farmers don’t understand how anyone could live in a congested area full of cars and people.

They are fighting traffic to get to work and back home again, with smog, light pollution and hustle and bustle everywhere. It is our own personal perceptions and preferences that shape our beliefs of right and wrong.

With this preface, let’s look at a topic that seems to draw a lot of attention in public policy: manure. Manure tends to have a negative attribute to it when it comes to the public. It stinks. Because of this odor, it is more readily noticed by the public in our farming practices.

In the past, more manure was spread daily, and the volumes were considerably less. The odor was less offensive and more common, so it became a fact of life, accepted by those who lived nearby.

Manure is a valuable resource. It is stored and spread at optimal times to get the most crop potential out of it and to avoid a negative environmental impact. The last 20 to 30 years has drastically changed how we work with manure. Through research and regulation and equipment technology, manure is managed as a valuable resource.

More manure is being professionally applied, and we are doing an excellent job. However, there is still a public perception element we need to consider and manage. With larger volumes and smaller time windows to spread, manure application can be overwhelming to our neighbors.

Having an understanding that people get their perspectives from sight, sound, touch, smell and past experiences, let’s look at a few ways we can maintain or improve public perception of our manure application.

  • Communication is key. Communicate with your local government agencies. Keep up-to-date on new regulations and requirements. Be involved when new regulatory requirements are being proposed. Letting the local township or municipality know of your plans and application timing may be helpful for road maintenance coordination.

    Communicating with local law enforcement (especially if you are dramatically increasing traffic or utilizing a public right-of-way) when, where, why and how may reduce resources responding to your site to investigate activity. Take the time to visit with neighbors to let them know what is going on before application. Ask about any special events going on, such as weddings, family gatherings, funerals or graduations.

    Time application so it does not have a negative impact on their event. If you need to utilize a neighbor’s property or right-of-way to get to your fields, visit with them well in advance. If you use a professional applicator, relay this information well in advance, if possible.

  • Weather timing. This is very difficult, especially if you use a professional or are the professional. Plan crop rotations, planting and harvest times to have enough land available for application. Utilizing cover crops and or nitrogen inhibitors may increase application timing windows. Avoid heavy rain events, saturated or frozen soil if possible.

  • Public roadways. A negative impact on the roadway gets attention quickly. We all use our roads. Taking the time to plan routes used for transport of manure, minimizing any potential accelerated wear, congestion and debris on the roads, reduces this impact. Having a plan to clean up if necessary and repair or maintain can be helpful. Consider alternative ways of application or fields to reduce roadway impact.

  • Appearance. Ensure your equipment is in good repair, reasonably clean and functioning properly. This includes tailgates and valves that keep manure contained during transport. Ensure manure is properly loaded and secured until you reach the application site. Have functional lighting for both visibility as well as directional and warning.

  • Application regulation. Ensure all local, state and federal regulations are followed. Educate your employees about the importance of setback requirements and application rates. Keep accurate records for application. When visiting with your neighbors or local agencies, reassure them you are following guidelines, utilizing manure as the valuable resource it is and are concerned about proper manure management.

  • Stockpiles and storage. If you are creating a new storage facility or are creating temporary stockpiles, pay attention to location and public impact. Consider prevailing winds and visual perception. Is the location feasible for accessibility to the land required for application?

    Does the stockpile need to be next to a busy road or neighboring houses? Probably not. If you are considering building a new facility, consider locating buildings and storage near the center of your application land base, away from high-traffic areas and residential areas.

How we operate our business can be key. The demands of animal agriculture – stress, time constraints and profitability – can be overwhelming. Adding unnecessary regulation and requirements to the industry creates unneeded stress and expense. If you are not already a member, consider joining general farm organizations, commodity groups and manure application organizations. Keep informed and help be a voice in industry.

At the end of the day or season, can you look over your fields and operations and feel proud of your work? How are you portraying the industry of agriculture? Always remember, public perception may become public policy.  end mark

Rick Martens is a professional manure applicator with Martens Manurigation. Email Rick Martens.

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