Farmers Turning to More Innovative Ways to Control Foul Smell of Manure
CONESTOGA, Pennsylvania To long-time rural residents, the smell of manure is something they hardly notice.
But with more city-dwellers moving closer to farms, the state is considering ways to restrict the stench, and some farmers are trying to reduce the odor voluntarily.
"We don't just do it for our neighbors," said Tom Frey, who has 1,200 dairy cows on his Lancaster County farm. "My wife doesn't appreciate it when it stinks."
Frey uses an array of tactics, such as covering manure pits with vegetable oil and blowing the smelly air through a biofilter made of wood chips.
In August, Gov. Ed Rendell's administration said it would push for odor restrictions on new or expanding farms above a certain size. A handful of states, including Iowa, already have such rules.
The issue has gained momentum as more people spread farther out into the suburbs. Farms also are getting bigger; in 1990, Pennsylvania had 220 farms with 1,000 hogs or more; last year there were 310.
Farmers have sought out scientists and entrepreneurs for help as odor becomes a bigger concern for their new residential neighbors. In Philadelphia, the Monell Chemical Senses Center has added charcoal to manure; Penn State University researchers have experimented with horseradish.
But Ken Kephart, a professor of animal sciences at Penn State, said people should be wary when looking for a cure-all.
"There's a lot of snake oil out there," he said, adding that practical measures, such as keeping barns clean and away from neighbors, can be more effective.
Environmental groups and neighbors say the smell is more than just an annoyance. They say it can be a health hazard and even hurt real-estate values.
"This is not some minor little country-air smell," said Jan Jarrett, outreach director for the environmental group Penn Future.
Neighbors say they experience nausea, headaches, and shortness of breath from the smell. In 2001, two California farm workers were overwhelmed by fumes and died while trying to unclog a manure pipe. The Environmental Protection Agency is studying the effect of the stench on health but has not imposed restrictions.
Some in the agricultural industry caution against imposing too many restrictions on manure odors, saying that puts an unnecessary burden on them.
"If people want food production in this country, we have to allow certain kinds of inconveniences," said Bill Achor, environmental coordinator at Wenger's Feed Mill in Lancaster County. "If I put on an $80,000 odor-control device ... someone will say 'I can get that same (food) product from South America.'"
Source: Associated Press