Taking the time to develop a simple one-page plan is one of the more effective ways to deal with concerns or complaints raised by non-farming neighbors, says Jim Ochterski, an agriculture economic development specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension in Ontario County, N.Y.
"Most people aren't interested in hearing a long explanation of why you use a particular practice or why a certain event happened on your farm,” he says. "What they want is to know that you're listening to them and that you intend to act on what they're saying.”
The focal point of the plan should be a list of action steps you're considering to address a problem. For example, if you get a complaint from a neighbor about odors from a new lagoon, your action steps might include the following:
- Work with the local university Extension office to research various odor abatement strategies.
- Provide neighbors with odor reporting sheets to fill out and return to you so that you can collect data that will provide a specific framework for addressing the problem.
- Work with a crop consultant to develop new strategies aimed at optimizing manure applications on fields.
Here are more suggestions from Ochterski:
Along with the preceding action steps, experiment with blowing straw or other biomass materials across the surface of the lagoon in an effort to minimize odor escapes.
"You don't need to go into a lot of specifics about each step,” says Ochterski. "In fact, most people aren't interested in a lot of detail. They simply want some kind of reassurance you're serious about addressing the problem or issue they've raised.”
Along with the action steps, Ochterski advises listing the names of people who will help you implement the plan. "You want to convey that you don't presume to have all the answers,” he says.
"You also want to get across the idea that, as a professional business person, you know how to enlist the help of qualified people to help you come up with solutions to problems.”
He also suggests putting contact information for the dairy on the plan and inviting questions or comments. "You're not just handing people a piece of paper and saying ‘See you later,'” he explains. "Instead, you're signaling that you've heard them and, as a responsible neighbor, you're willing to work with them. It reinforces the idea that you are more than willing to be held accountable for what goes on in your place of business.”
Ochterski recommends distributing copies of the plan, if asked or it otherwise seems appropriate, to local policy makers (local planning commission, town board, etc.), media outlets and dairy employees.