by Nicole Olynk , Joleen Hadrich and Bruce Erickson

Beautiful spring weather means farmers are in the field again, and this year it is an earlier start. But just as anxious to get back outside are our rural neighbors and other nonfarm families. Warm spring weather kicks off the season for backyard barbeques, the resurgence of outdoor sport enthusiasts and an increased number of visitors to rural areas for recreation and sightseeing.

A research project completed by Joleen Hadrich and Christopher Wolf at Michigan State University last year assessed environmental citizen complaints against farms in Michigan from October 1998 to December 2007. In 1986 a complaint response program was initiated through the Right to Farm Program in Michigan to address the complaints of citizens related to environmental concerns regarding Michigan farms. Inspections are completed on each farm receiving a complaint and complaints are classified as verified (valid environmental concern found with corrective practices necessary) or nonverified (farm found to be in compliance with generally accepted agricultural management practices, hence no corrective practice needed).

Citizen complaints against farms related to odor were greatest during spring and summer. Warm weather draws outdoors local community members, tourists, and agricultural producers. Everyone, farmers and nonfarm neighbors, is outdoors where odor may be more noticeable when the weather is nice, creating potential for complaints and conflict.

As might be expected, the number of verified and non-verified complaints received differed across different types of farms. While livestock operations tended to have larger numbers of complaints than crops, use of manure on fields is likely interpreted as a cropping-related nuisance by disgruntled neighbors.

Crop farms, while arguably having been less focused upon in recent times regarding public relations, are not immune to negative perceptions of cropping practices. Recent times have seen debates surrounding livestock production practices and related animal welfare and humane treatment concerns. Also in the forefront of citizen's minds are environmental impacts of agricultural practices. In this season of activity in the field, mindfulness towards how our agricultural practice
are perceived by our nonfarm neighbors can go a long way toward improving public perceptions of agriculture.

Small acts of neighborly kindness such as providing assistance to neighbors after a heavy snow or inviting neighbors onto the farm may build goodwill for the farm. 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 so that questions regarding practices can be addressed, and being cautious about moving machinery on roads during peak times can go a long way in building good community relations.

For More Information
Hadrich, J.C. and C.A. Wolf. Understanding Citizen Complaints Regarding Michigan Agricultural Operations. Department of Agricultural, Food, and Resource Economics. Michigan State University Staff Paper. April, 2009. Available at http://ideas.repec.org/p/ags/midasp/49274.html

James, B.H. Rural Neighbors: Living and Working Together. Ohio State University Fact Sheet. CDFS-1280-99. Available here.

Nicole Olynk is assistant professor, Department of Agricultural Economics, Purdue University. Joleen Hadrich is assistant professor, Department of Agribusiness and Applied Economics, North Dakota State University. Bruce Erickson is director of cropping systems management, Department of Agricultural Economics, Purdue University.