A $250,000 plan to fight stinky farms - Macleans.ca

A $250,000 plan to fight stinky farms

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

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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.