A $250,000 plan to fight stinky farms

The Feds will spend three years creating a smell-o-meter


A $250,000 plan to fight stinky farms

Canadians love bacon—as long as the pigpen is nowhere near their noses. Or their kitchens.

Across the country, as new housing developments collide with traditional family farms, neighbours are complaining more than ever about the manure stench next door. In Ontario alone, more than half of all beefs filed with the provincial agriculture ministry are related to one thing: barnyard odours. “The urbanites are moving into the countryside and they demand clean, pristine air,” says John Feddes, an agriculture professor at the University of Alberta. “But you can’t have farms with zero odour. That’s impossible—unless you train pigs to flush toilets.”

Ottawa is working on a more realistic solution. Over the next three years, its Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Department plans to spend $250,000 to create an “odour indicator”—a scientific measuring stick designed to help farmers reduce the reek. “There is more and more pressure to address the odour issue,” says Daniel Massé, the project coordinator. “But there is no perfect answer.”

Indeed. At least 168 odour-producing compounds have been linked to livestock aromas, and although it is possible to electronically measure the existence of each compound, the smell itself is completely subjective. Everyone’s nasal cavity is a built a bit differently, and what is revolting to one person may be soothing to another.

The goal of this latest project is to provide some level of proof that certain anti-odour strategies are actually working. For years now, farmers have adopted numerous funk-fighting techniques, from chemically altering cow dung to planting large trees around the property. But there is no formula that says one particular approach reduces odour by a certain per cent.

Such an indicator won’t kill every stench (or teach pigs to flush). But at the very least, farmers will be able to show their angry neighbours that the smell in the air is not nearly as nasty as it could be. And if homeowners still want to complain, they can always move back to the city. It never stinks there.


A $250,000 plan to fight stinky farms

  1. Sorry, I have to call hogwash here. If you’re dumb enough to buy a new house next to a stinky farm, why exactly is it the farmer’s problem? Something stinks here, and it ain’t just the fertilizer. The tiny little libertarian part of me is wondering why my hard-earned inner-city tax dollars are subsidizing suburban stupidity.

  2. Shenping: its not that easy. Hog production has increased by 600 percent in Canada over the past decade which means that pigs and barns are moving closer to suburbia (closer to labour and processing centers) — not the other way around.

  3. No complaints about the smell of day to day farming. However the practice of spraying liquid manure leaves a little to be desired. Farms are our food source, a little neighborly understanding would go a long way. Unless you’re talking about the abomination of factory farms. Whole different story.

  4. Industrial hog farming is the culprit here, and odours are the least we have to worry about in regards to them. Consumers need to demand protection for small-scale operators (i.e. get rid of NAFTA) before they are forced to go under or expand, and/or start buying your pork from organic/free range local farmers.

  5. Well, make sure that the pork you buy from your organic/free range local farmers is properly inspected.

    As well, spraying liquid manure is pretty much the alternative to using fossil-fuel intensive industrial fertilizers. Just be careful on where the manure comes from and whether it has been tested for pathogens like E.coli. The reason why peasants boiled their food in the middle ages was because they used human and animal manure. They were ignorant of germ theory, but they weren’t stupid.

    As for factory farming, I’m afraid you urbanites depend on it, and organic farming is not a distinct entity from factory farming. If you want true organic farming, in a way that the left imagines their agrarian utopia, you’d pretty much have to have a farming family for every 20 acres. If you allow for fossil fuel burning mechanization, you can have a farming family for 640 acres. My parents currently farm 1920 acres and they have a grain farm about a quarter of the size of their modern-day neighbours. All those extra farmers will need a decent standard of living, and you’re going to need a larger distribution and transport infrastructure. Plus of course, each of those acres will produce less with greater competition from weeds and greater need to allow the land to rest and recover nutrients.

    Now you may think that organic food seems to be slightly more expensive but not that bad cost wise, but I’m here to tell you that you have no clue what organic food look like. I’ve personally raised and slaughtered chickens, pigs, and lambs and let me tell you brother, what you’re eating is not organic if you buy it from a grocery store.

    There is some hope for you city mice though. Many people are setting up rival distribution networks to try and get food from the farms directly to the consumer without paying the costs of advertising, shipping it to the US and back again, paying the meat packers union, etc. It will still be pricey, but you might get actual food.

    Of course, make sure the facilities and product of the farm you are getting it from is inspected, and be wary of biological contamination.

  6. Terry, it was mostly farmers and rural dwellers who opposed unsustainable hog barns in Manitoba, not “urbanites.” They had to do it one barn at a time because the provincial government removed the single desk selling requirment of the hog marketing board in the early 1990’s, exempted hog barns from environmental assessment (a shoe factory making 100 pairs of shoes a year would need an assessment, but a hog factory producing 10,000 hogs per year was made exempt) and announced that the province was open to hog factories.

    Almost overnight farmers with 20 hogs were out of the business, and forced to watch while corporate hog barns turned their communities into stinking, hog shit dumps. Let’s face it, hog manure is rarely used on high value crop lands, today. The owners buy up marginal pasture land and overload it with nutrients that find their way into ground and surface water.

    It’s only called fertilizer when you use appropriate amounts of manure and actually grow a crop. Overloading hay lands with nutrients isn’t fertilizing, that’s just sewage lagoon overflow. Spraying onto the snow in winter is worse, the shit just runs off into the ditches in spring. Might as well make a pipe straight to Lake Winnipeg.

    Like most defenders of the agribixz takeover of the farming sector you pretend that it’s uninformed urbanites that are raising these issues, but its families on adjacent farms that are affected, and articulating alternatives.

  7. The odour issue is a negative externality, and capturing negative externalities is actually good for the economy.

  8. Here’s a thought for free, save the 250 G which, by the time the bureaucrats are done will have aquired one more zero. Keep the city yuppies in highrises and OFF farm land. No pay necessary, a simple thank you will do.

  9. TobyornotToby> Yeah, I remember the opposition to the hog barns that went into our local town in Saskatchewan. The opposing factions were teachers and retirees vs. farmers and local businesses. Largely the latter faction won, because people wanted a place to sell their cereals that wasn’t Cargill & the CWB. It was also a market that could sell legumes (such as yellow peas and lentils) that the North American consumer doesn’t eat, yet is a plant that replenishes nitrogen. Local business of course wanted more young people to come into town to patronize their businesses.

    I won’t deny that it undercut the small pig farmer who had a barn of 200 pigs vs. the factory farm’s 5000 (though largely they were raised the same way) but that is the price you pay for not paying what the pork is worth at the grocery store. Pork is ludicrously cheap compared to what you would pay 15 years ago, and cereal commodity prices were dirt cheap then, compared to what they are now. So if you want genuine pork that is raised in way it hasn’t been raised in 50 years, you have to buy it directly from a farmer. (hint: bacon is supposed to be mostly meat with ribbons of fat, not the other way around). It however is largely going to be out of reach, price-wise, for all but the epicurean leisure class.

    So calling things “monstrous” or “unsustainable” is pretty much ignoring the reality of how much urban centers rely on this style of agriculture. Only 20% of the population of Canada is considered rural these days, and that definition simply means a community with a population of less than 10,000 people. If you take the population directly involved in producing food it is between 3-5% of the Canadian population. Small scale family farms without chemical herbicides or fertilizers are within living memory, but you have noticed a massive demographic shift in the intervening 60 years. Crunch the numbers I gave in my previous post, where my parents are small farmers at 1920 acres. Figure out how many farmers you would need and how many acres would need to be taken out of production to have a wholly organic agricultural system.

    So it pisses me right off when people say that we should just “farm organic” and expect that things could carry on like they are now. The investment of labour, infrastructure, start up costs, and the loss of production requires a massive challenge. Certain European nations have taken the bull by the horns and brought in massive changes, but it required a huge amount of planning, a broad consensus, a massive influx of government money (basically guaranteeing the incomes of their entire agricultural class) and an acceptance that they aren’t going to provide even close to 100% of the food consumption (which was a key goal of agricultural policy after World War II). It is also worth noting that we’ve had a bit of European resettlement in the west as some farmers fled the over-regulation to try their luck here.

    As for handling manure, I completely agree with you. Manure, especially in large quantities can be a toxic biohazardous substance. Also, of course urbanites are uninformed. That’s why when there is a ground water contamination story they show two cows grazing in a field, rather than a massive lagoon of shit next to the feedlot. Also, that’s why they continue to buy crap just because it has “organic” slapped on it.

  10. I have to go with Terry. In order to decrease pesticide use, you need to till a lot more, which increases soil erosion & decreases soil quality, as well as being extremely hard on surrounding waterways.

    While I support much larger buffer zones around waterways to prevent fertilizer runoff contaminating them, & agree that some farmers don’t know enough about proper application of chemicals, if every farm on the planet went organic, we’d probably start seeing a lot famines.

    If someone invented a viable alternative to pesticides & chemical fertilizers, I think farmers would jump over them. These are usually minimum of a quarter to a third of a farmer’s costs. Crop rotation & fallowing require a lot of pesticides &/or tillage and a huge investment in new equipment, and the nitrogen-fixing legumes have a lot of marketing difficulties that wheat doesn’t. (Feed barns being one place that might take them.) They also reduce annual productive acres, which, if you have a crop failure, will kill you in the agriculture supplement programs (is CAIS still the active program?) That’s one of the problem with these types of programs, but they are restricted by how NAFTA was drafted. The US & EU can do per-acre subsidies, but they will bring every resource they have to the table to stop all other countries from doing the same.

    Start-up costs on a new farm are over a million dollars for a small farm, and it can take over a decade to build one up to a self-sustaining operation. The size of a farm that is big enough to manage its own cash flow without government top-ups & produce more profitable crops such as lentils & chickpeas and grow organic crops, all of which are more subject to crop failure, is probably about five times the size of Terry’s parents farm. With good farm land going at over $10,000 per acre at times, a 10,000 acre farm takes generation to build.

  11. Whoever picked that picture and the caption to go with it definitely deserves a promotion. To the humour section.

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