Image does matter. What people outside of agriculture think of your business will affect your long-term success, as well as influence the rules and regulations that you have to follow.
Take, for example, four livestock facilities that went through the Wisconsin permitting process last year. At the public hearings for three of the units, no one came to speak against them. But the fourth unit “did not have a positive hearing,” says Dennis Frame, director of the University of Wisconsin Discovery Farms Program. All of the producers have implemented sound nutrient-management plans. The difference, says Frame, is that three had developed positive relationships with their neighbors; the other one did not.
Anyone who wants to remain in production agriculture must invest in public relations. If you don’t, neighbors will draw their own conclusions about your business from what they see on the news, hear at the coffee shop or notice as they drive by your operation.
In some cases, developing a positive relationship with your neighbors may be difficult because of their attitudes. You can’t control how they feel. But you can control how you communicate with and react to their concerns.
Use this list of top complaints to start your own public-relations campaign with your neighbors.
1. Noise, dust and light pollution.
Doing fieldwork at odd hours of the night might irritate to your neighbors. You know that every minute counts when it comes to planting or harvesting, but others might not have that same understanding.
To them, it’s just that much longer that they have to keep windows shut because of the noise and dust. So, it might help to explain the basics to them. Illustrate that rather than trying to irritate them, you only have a certain window of time to get the job done. Also, offer a perspective of when you might complete the task.
2. Negative effects on the environment.
The public believes that large farms in general, and pork operations in particular, pollute more than small ones. Explain to your neighbors that you have a soil-conservation plan, and that it’s in your best economic interest to be a steward of the land.
Tell them about your manure-management plans and other steps that you take to protect the environment. Also explain that manure nutrients are a valuable source of organic nutrients for crop production.
You know all too well that odor has become a major challenge for pork production — whether odor is a reality or a perception. You have to start by implementing the right practices within your operation to mitigate the potential for odors.
Having done that, the next step is to hold an open house for neighbors so they can see first-hand the steps that you are taking to limit odors. They’ll likely be surprised by what they see, and you will likely be surprised at what can be accomplished by opening your doors.
4. Loss of family farms.
There is a tremendous lack of knowledge about the long-term evolution of agriculture, and a misperception of what is and isn’t a family farm.
Start by explaining that all sizes of farms are needed to feed the world, and point out that an operation’s size doesn’t define a family farm. Some operations have simply grown to support more family members and gain production efficiencies. Then illustrate how modern pork operations create jobs, which support local economies.
5. Agriculture is not community oriented.
Start by always being open and honest with your neighbors, and then get involved in your community. Consider sponsoring a local softball team, an FFA event or a scholarship. Donate items to a community festival.
Make it your business to know if a wedding, graduation or other special event is going on in your neighborhood, and then plan to adjust any production practices that might negatively impact the event.
6. Farmers don’t care about my concerns.
Establish a clear chain of command for complaints. If you tend to be reactionary, assign someone else to the task who can listen compassionately. Investigate any complaints, evaluate if a problem exists, and then fix whatever is necessary. Often neighbors just want to be heard. When you don’t listen, they will find a regulatory body that will.