“Love thy neighbor as thyself.” While that might sound like we just went back to Sunday School, the message is an appropriate summary of a recent discussion between members of the Ohio Dairy Industry Task Force and Dr. Paul Lasley, rural sociologist from Iowa State University.
What is the Ohio Dairy Industry Task Force and why Paul Lasley?
The Ohio Dairy Industry Task Force was convened last year by Bobby Moser, dean of the OSU College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (the ag college, to us old folks who graduated before 1995); Keith Smith, director of OSU Extension; and Jim Kinder, chair of the Department of Animal Sciences.
The task of this multi-faceted group is to focus on the production, economic, environmental and social implications of dairy farming in Ohio.
Time for action.
The need for this group was brought clearly into focus by some of the negative activities associated with dairy production in northwest Ohio that Ernie Oelker discussed in this column last time.
Last week, Lasley spent three days in Ohio at the invitation of the Ohio Dairy Industry Task Force to discuss and share what Iowa has learned in the last 10 years as their agricultural industry has undergone tremendous change.
If asked to guess what percent of the population in Iowa lived on farms, I would have felt well over 50 percent was a safe estimate. I think of Iowa and crops and hogs come to mind and not much of anything else.
Surprisingly, only 8 percent of Iowa’s population lives on farms.
1988 marked the beginning of a major change in Iowa’s swine industry. Before 1988, a 100-sow operation was considered large and the largest sow herd in the state would have weighed in at around 500 sows. Today, 5,000 sows would be considered a large operation with more than 60,000 sows in one business entirely possible.
Impact of changes.
None of these changes occurred without huge impacts on individuals, families and communities.
That number of sows in one location certainly poses many challenges. There are also quite a few people in Iowa who do not want to live next to the growing swine operations. While discussing the issue of who should decide where large-scale livestock operations are sited, several good points were made that apply to agricultural production on any scale.
Lasley has kept an eye on the types of lawsuits that have been filed against agricultural operations in Iowa in the past few years. Overall, he noted that he has not seen nuisance lawsuits filled against good operations who incorporated three basic philosophies into their business practices:
* Respect your neighbors.
“Don’t expect the neighbors to live any closer to the barn than you would.” Some folks would prefer to live much further away than you do.
Proximity to neighbors has to be a consideration when deciding where to locate new buildings and manure storage facilities. In addition to the purely physical location type considerations, there are relationships as well.
“Neighbor should be a verb as well as a noun,” said Lasley. We all get caught up in the trap of busy lives and never-ending work. Farm businesses experience double jeopardy with a stack of work waiting on the office desk as well as jobs waiting outside, not to mention family and home responsibilities. It often seems as if there simply isn’t time to just say hello and visit for 15 minutes.
However, it is much easier to develop and maintain positive relationships with neighbors when you are real people to each other, not just the barn or manure storage down the road.
* Support the community.
Supporting the community takes a variety a forms. It isn’t just throwing money at a project or two and “buying” good will. People aren’t stupid.
True support is recognized as a long-term involvement of time and dollars. Examples of financial support in our community include sponsorship of youth sport teams, several dairy farm names engraved on the sponsor plaques of the new high school auditorium and paid advertisements in sports programs.
Community support also means supporting the local economy. Hire locally when possible, buy locally when possible. Will that penny difference in cost buy you more than a penny’s worth of good will in the community?
* Practice good environmental stewardship.
Manure management, soil management, water management, odor control, fly control.
No realistic person expects a farm operation to have no odors and no flies, but they can be managed to minimize the adverse impact on your own farm and home as well as the neighbors’.
Say “Buckeye Egg” and most folks instantly think of the nasty fly, beetle and other pest problems endured by their neighbors. Unfortunately, they gave a black eye to all Ohio agricultural operations that we have to disprove.
All kinds of assistance is available to today’s farmers to develop, document and practice good environmental stewardship.
I don’t have a clue who owns or farms it, but there is a field at a busy intersection in Mahoning County that was a poster child for soil erosion. Every year the field was conventionally tilled. When it rained, gullies at least a foot deep would erode in several places in the field. The soil would wash into a culvert and go into a small stream across the road.
The stream was owned by an excavating company that would then dig the soil out with a backhoe and pile it up at the edge of the stream right by the road.
I have never been so glad to see the county’s Soil and Water Conservation District start a grass waterway project! That field was a glaring example of what happens when good conservation practices are not used and it was seen by thousands. It is now a shining example of what good stewardship can accomplish.
Respect you neighbors; support your community; practice good environmental stewardship; or, in a nutshell, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.”
(The author is the northeast Ohio district dairy specialist with OSU Extension. Send comments or questions in care of Farm and Dairy, P.O. Box 38, Salem, OH 44460.)