When we moved into our house, the open field behind our street was one of my favorite features. I grew up in the country on a farm, and even though we chose to live in town rather than find a rural home, I still felt a connection to my agricultural roots each day when I looked out the patio window and saw that field.
Every spring, a farmer would come to plant either corn or soybeans. All summer long we’d watch that crop grow until the fall harvest, when the combine would roll by. It was a chance for my young children to see farm machinery working up close — literally in our backyard.
I knew this day would likely come, and as the years went by and our little town continued to expand, it seemed almost inevitable. Still, every spring I was so thankful to see the field get planted, knowing it was a sign that development was not happening yet.
But, when that first front loader pulled in, I knew change was coming. Our backyard was going to be transformed, and now, someday in the not-so-distant future, new neighbors will move in.
This is a reality many farm owners also face. In some situations, a farm may expand into an area where homes were built years ago. More often, though, new houses pop up as farm fields are sold and divided into smaller parcels.
Either way, neighbor relations have become more important than ever before. While general consumers tend to be more interested in animal care and the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), those living closest to farms are more likely to be affected by and concerned about environmental impacts, including water quality and odor.
This is where manure gets its bad reputation. Even though manure is a tremendous source of nutrients, there is a lot of it — and it has an odor, not typically considered a pleasant one, especially to noses that did not grow up surrounded by agriculture. Like it or not, one goal of a nutrient management system is minimizing the impacts manure has on people in the nearby community.
Fortunately, there are solutions available that both utilize manure in productive ways and can reduce odor; some are simple, others are more complex. A few opportunities are covered in this issue, from composting manure to producing renewable natural gas. For Swager Farms featured on page 14, a trial using a zeolite filter reduced both ammonia emissions and odor, something owner Dean Swager considered a win for the environment and the dairy industry.
Of course, some manure practices come down to simple courtesy. For example, recommendations for reducing odors when applying manure are highlighted on page 17. Waiting for favorable weather conditions can go a long way in maintaining those neighborly relationships. I am sure many of you learned this lesson years ago.
I will undoubtedly miss the extra space and privacy the field behind my house offered, but even more than that, it is sad to see another farm field transitioned away from its agricultural purposes. This is a feeling that has been shared by past and present farmers for decades as urban sprawl pushed into agriculture areas.
Yet, farmers will continue to persevere, finding ways to do more with the resources available. As we strive to improve the productivity of livestock and crops, environmental impacts are also top of mind. So, too, should be the impacts of farming practices on people living in the area. For most producers, though, the desire to be a good farmer and a good neighbor is nothing new.
Until next time,
This article appeared in the August 2021 issue of Journal of Nutrient Management on page 4. Not a subscriber? Click to get the print magazine.