Top complaints from farm neighbors include complaints about odors, surface water and ground water.
As the weather warms for spring and the pace of farm life begins to accelerate, families living on the other side of the farm fence will begin poking their noses outside their houses as well. This could cause tension between farmers and their non-farm neighbors.
Citizen complaints against farmers most often stem from odors. While the odor of farm activities go hand in hand with the daily grind of life for farmers, farm neighbors may not smell things the same ways, says Nicole Olynk, Purdue University agricultural economist. Other common complaints are related to surface or ground water, or even a combination of the three.
A 2009 study by Joleen Hadrich and Christopher Wolf at Michigan State University looked at citizen complaints against farms in Michigan from October 1998 to December 2007. The study found that odor and surface water complaints were by far the most common and that all complaints were highest in spring and summer months, when farm work is at its highest and non-farm families spend the most time outdoors.
The study also showed that while livestock operations tended to have more complaints than crop farms, neighbors generally considered manure on fields a crop-related issue.
“Crop farms are not immune to negative perceptions of cropping practices,” Olynk says. “Recent times have seen debates surrounding livestock-production practices and related animal-welfare and humane-treatment concerns. But also in the forefront of citizens’ minds are environmental impacts of agricultural practices.”
One way farmers can reduce friction is being mindful of the ways non-farm neighbors perceive on-farm practices. Small acts of neighborly kindness, such as helping neighbors after snowstorms or inviting them to visit the farm, may build goodwill. Slight modifications to farming practices can also help ease tension.
“Simple changes on the part of farm managers, such as avoidance of spreading manure on weekends or holidays, keeping lines of communication open with neighbors to answer questions regarding practices, and being cautious about moving machinery on roads during peak times can go a long way in building good community relations,” Olynk says.