No one likes to buy a new product or implement a new protocol to find out that he or she has purchased snake oil. To avoid this, Iowa State University researchers are studying the most popular and effective odor-control technologies in use today.

Here’s how the process began. Iowa State researchers sent a survey to Iowa pork producers to find out what odor-control methods are being applied. They sent out 3,249 surveys – they received back 562 useable surveys.

Producers provided information on the use and satisfaction level of the odor-control methods; type of production system, such as confinement or hoop; type of operation, such as farrow-to-finish or finish only; distance to nearest neighbors; and other ways that producers are working to improve neighbor relations.

Results are outlined in the accompanying tables. The first table outlines the number of hogs marketed by each producer participating in the study; the second one addresses the various types of manure storage systems; and the third shows the producers’ satisfaction levels with the more popular odor-control methods.

Gathering this information can serve many purposes, according to researchers Jim Kliebenstein, agricultural economist, and Jeff Lorimor, agricultural engineer. They contend the survey results can be used to educate pork producers and individuals outside of the industry; document technology advances in odor control; identify effective and low-cost odor-control technologies; and can help establish a base for evaluating industry impacts of various odor-control technologies.

Once the researchers completed the mail-in portion of the survey, they took it a step further. Kliebenstein and Lorimor spearheaded a telephone survey to the 562 eligible producers asking them additional questions, such as whether they have ever received a formal or informal complaint in the last five years. Their goal was to show what Iowa pork producers’ neighbors are thinking when it comes to swine odors.

They defined a formal complaint as one where a producer was contacted by an attorney, the state Department of Natural Resources or a city/county council representative, either through a phone call, letter or personal visit.

An informal complaint includes a personal visit from a neighbor, a call or letter from a private individual or hearing an off-handed remark in public.

Of the 562 telephone calls, researchers had 354 responses. Of those producers:

  • 1.70 percent had received only a formal complaint.
  • 15.5 percent had received only an informal complaint.
  • 4.5 percent had received both types of complaints.

In all, only 21.7 percent of Iowa pork producers responding had received a complaint, with 78.3 percent never receiving a complaint.

Using information from the mail-in survey, researchers also asked how far producers lived from their nearest neighbor and corresponded this to the number of complaints. Here’s what they found out:

  • The complaints weren’t necessarily size-related, meaning complaints didn’t increase with the number of hogs on an operation. One producer who had received both formal and informal complaints only had 100 hogs.
  • 14 percent of producers live within 1/8 mile of their neighbors; these facilities accounted for 14 percent of all complaints.
  • 30 percent of the producers live 1/8 mile to 1/2 mile from their nearest neighbor; this group accounted for 36 percent of all the complaints.
  • 35 percent of producers live 1/4 mile to 1/2 mile from their neighbors; they received 40 percent of the complaints.
  • 17 percent of producers live 1/2 mile to 1 mile from their neighbors; they accounted for only 8 percent of complaints.
  • About 2 percent of the producers live more than 1 mile from their neighbors. Those producers received only 1 percent of the complaints.

Clearly, neighbors within 1/8 mile to 1/2 mile are more sensitive than those living further away,” says Lorimor. “I suspect operations that are closer to neighbors are older operations, built before separation distances came into play, and those neighbors are used to it. A lot of large, new facilities are built just outside of the separation distance, which usually starts at about 1,000 to 1,250 feet.”

What do these results tell us? “The industry is being responsive to odors,” contends Kliebenstein. “Pork producers are using a number of technologies that are effective for reducing odors.”

He points out that a large number of complaints are associated with applying manure to land. Granted, producers usually apply manure only once or twice a year, but the practice still creates problems and results in the most complaints.

Weather and individual communication have a lot to do with whether or not complaints surface. “With new neighbors, you have to be even more observant with respect to buildings and applying manure,” notes Lorimor. “You always need to pay attention to wind direction.”

He adds, “The public needs to realize that producers are using a lot of different technologies to reduce odors, but there’s no one silver bullet.”