Odor: Will We Still Smell Tomorrow?

Posted: January 10, 2005

Best Management Practices (BMPs) for controlling odors from farms with animals are being proposed as part of the new ACRE program.

Other air emissions regulations are on a fast track for consideration and implementation by the US EPA in response to citizen lawsuits and court decisions. A meeting sponsored by Penn State, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture and the PA Agricultural Ombudsman Program provided an update on the PA Odor Management in Agriculture and Food Processing Manual ( ) and also discussed existing and future regulations and programs that may affect dairy farms. This two day conference answered some questions, raised new questions and emphasized the importance of this topic to animal production and our overall food supply system in Pennsylvania and the US.

Odor is a frustrating issue because we all have different opinions on what is a good or bad odor. The human nose is the most accurate measuring device and calibrating some kind of chemical or electronic device to respond like the human nose still eludes us. People become very emotional about odor and heated exchanges between odor generators (farmers) and odor receptors (rural neighbors who may in fact also be farmers) can become ugly. Fear of odor is a common response to news that a new animal facility may be built in a township. Odor is also a concern to our mushroom industry and our extensive food processing industry. Many jobs and even the security of our food supply system are at stake. I have come away from this conference with the following observations or thoughts:

  • There are things we can do and are doing to control odor. They often involve a change of how we approach a problem or our priorities in making day-to-day management decisions.
  • Many of the design and management steps that reduce odor emissions are also good for animal and worker health and productivity.
  • Present "no odors will be tolerated" demands will be impossible to satisfy for agriculture or almost any activity.
  • Mutual respect and understanding of all parties will be necessary. This starts and ends with continuous thoughtful communication among all involved parties.
  • We must find and work with new partners, maybe even some we see as enemies, to establish long range, stable solutions.
  • Solving odor problems will take time and will be a continuous part of farm operation.
  • Odor and continued livestock agriculture in Pennsylvania may be considered a food security issue. Do we want to depend on longer and longer food supply lines, maybe from outside the country for more and more of our food?
  • How do we reestablish the concept that agricultural use of land is a high value use and not just a way to hold land until it is needed for development or highways?
  • Adequate time, resources and continuous attention will be needed as farm and non-farm neighbors learn to accommodate each other.
A simple, low cost solution to odor problems does not exist and is not likely to be discovered. Having said this I am still hopeful that we will learn to coexist with our neighbors. The time to start this dialog is now!

Robert E. Graves Agricultural, Biological, and Engineering Extension