Odors from your farm can be a touchy issue between you, your neighbors and even whole communities. A new computer modeling program under development at Iowa State University may be able to predict and identify odor problems, helping everyone breathe easier.

The program uses factors like historic weather data, location of neighbors relative to the site, terrain, ventilation, manure management systems and number of pigs to come up with an odor threshold.

It uses a 7:1 odor threshold as the maximum acceptable – that’s in line with several states’ requirements. This means it takes seven parts of fresh air to every one part of the sample before the odor is barely detectable.

The program considers the threshold and determines how many days per month an odor is detectable at a given location. For example, the program may find that four days of the month odor can be detected – and at what threshold – at the property line between you and your neighbor.

Further, the program can review different inputs and management styles to analyze potential solutions.

One of the inputs used is the number of odor units coming from a specific location. This requires taking a scentometer reading and using a formula to calculate the dilution of the odor as it drifts. Knowing this you can determine the odor source by getting a measurement from that source, or you can work backward by knowing the odor generated from other sources.

This lets you isolate odors that might be coming from your farm vs. those originating from other sources. If you’re considering building or expanding, this program could help you identify and ward off any potential odor problems before they start.

“The program’s biggest advantage is that it more truly represents the experience of neighboring residents as opposed to using some specific gas as a base,” says Dwaine Bundy, Iowa State University agricultural and biosystems engineer. He points out that there has been no conclusive correlation between any gases and hog odor intensity.

Using the modeling program lets you change the variables to fit your situation. That’s important because seasons, animal populations and community standards on odor vary. It also shows the effects of changing manure management techniques and how those changes affect odor production.

For example, if you have a manure slurry system and you put a biocover on it, the program will show the amount of odor reduction you can expect, says Bundy.

While this program certainly will help pork producers, it could benefit many other groups as well. Bundy says it has potential to help zoning commissions and regulatory agencies look at odor in a more informed way.

Because the modeling program service will be run out of Iowa State, you will need to contact scientists there. Iowa State will provide assistance by having a technician visit your farm to take measurements for input data as well as scout the community for other potential odor sources.

The program is planned for release this month. To set up an on-farm visit, contact the Iowa State agricultural engineering department at (515) 294-9973. Prices are still being finalized and will depend on travel distance, but Bundy guesses in most cases costs will run “a couple hundred dollars.”

There’s enough to worry about with management, marketing and financial requirements of pork production. Why spend time worrying about odors and negative public relations? This modeling program may be a way to put an end to odor hassles.