PUBLIC RELATIONS AND YOUR COMMUNITY IMAGE

Robert Meinen, Robert Mikesell and Ken Kephart

The Pennsylvania State University

 

††††††††††† Public perception is very important to the individual agricultural operation as well as the industry as a whole. Negative perceptions of agriculture can come from many different sources, including environmental groups and the media. Events that occur on a local level can have impact on perceptions, consumer confidence and product demand. Pennsylvania has developed two certification processes that promote public perception. Penn State University has also explored the perceptions of neighbors and non-neighbors of large-scale agriculture.

 

Pennsylvania Environmental Agricultural Conservation Certification of Excellence (PEACCE)

 

††††††††††† Recognizing that environmental concerns are often at the forefront of negative perceptions towards agriculture, the PEACCE program has been developed in Pennsylvania to promote agricultural practices by livestock producers that are useful to the enhancement of responsible environmental stewardship, and to give public recognition to those producers who meet the programs requirements. Many key agricultural players in Pennsylvania have contributed to the development and implementation of PEACCE. One or more representatives from each of the following entities participate in the PEACCE Board. The entities include: The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, PA State Conservation Commission, PA Association of Conservation Districts, PennAg Industries, Inc., PA Farm Bureau, USDA-Natural Resource Conservation Service (PA), Pennsylvania Environmental Council, PA Department of Environmental Protection and the Pennsylvania State University.

 

The PEACCE program has four components. The first three components are required for producer certification and the fourth component will provide a mechanism for continuing education and maintaining certification.

 

The first component is the Environmental Awareness Course. Through December 31, 2002 there have been 680 participants in the Environmental Awareness Course, each of whom has been quizzed on course content. The Awareness Course is administered to individual or groups of producers in a classroom or meeting setting. The course addresses current issues, regulations and common sense practices in the following four areas.

1.      Environmental Awareness, Stewardship and Sustainability

2.      Manure and Nutrient Application

3.      Odor, Gaseous Emissions and Nuisance Issues

4.      Environmental Laws and Regulations in Agriculture

 

The second PEACCE component is the On-Farm Assessment and Environmental Review (OFAER). The PEACCE program has accepted this national environmental assessment tool to stand alone as its second component. OFAER is administered with funds provided by Americaís Clean Water Foundation to Environmental Management Solutions, LLC (Des Moines, IA). This voluntary, confidential program conducts on-farm assessments free-of-charge to producers with dairy, swine, poultry or feedlot operations. Two assessors, trained within specific species, will be assigned to your farm. Over 160 farms in the state have undergone this assessment that identifies environmental strengths and offers sensible recommendations for improving environmental challenges in the following five areas:

1.      Overall Site Appearance and Management

2.      Buildings, Sheds and Lot Management

3.      Manure Storage Management and Effects of Odors

4.      Mortality Management

5.      Nutrient Management and Manure Application

 

The final certification component is a County Conservation District Evaluation. Trained representatives from the County Conservation District and Penn State Extension utilize a standard, comprehensive checklist to verify that the producer has met PEACCE requirements. Other voluntary aspects may also be assessed. Reviewed components include the farms Conservation Plan, state approved Nutrient Management Plan and Pesticide Applicators Licensing (where necessary). The OFAER report is review to ascertain that any high-risk challenges that may have been noted during the report have been eliminated from the farm. The District technician will then present a report of their findings and recommendations to the oversight board that will then approve or deny certification. A pilot project has resulted in the certification of 21 of 30 pilot farms.

 

Continuing education will be required for a farm to maintain its certification status. The PEACCE committee will incorporate various parts of the Livestock and Poultry Environmental Stewardship Curriculum along with current local environmental issues when administering continuing education.

 

Manure Hauler Certification Course

 

The purpose of this educational program is to strengthen environmental stewardship and community image among commercial manure haulers. Participants who score 80% or higher on exam material at a classroom session and attend a field demonstration qualify for certification.Classroom subject matter includes the following: Pennsylvaniaís nutrient management laws, nitrogen management, phosphorus management, conservation practices, manure spreader calibration, odor control, computerized record keeping, emergency preparedness, and equipment maintenance and appearance. Field demonstrations included hands-on exercises to teach manure calibration, utilization of GPS technology on manure application equipment, soil health concepts, soil conservation practices, consequences of soil compaction, and manure sampling techniques.

 

Since 2000, four classroom sessions and eight field days have been held. Ninety individuals have completed all certification requirements. Some of field days have been open to public attendance. Attendees have consisted of commercial manure haulers, local conservation district personnel, watershed specialists, interested public, farming community and agricultural business employees.We believe this voluntary approach helps improve environmental awareness and stewardship among individuals involved in commercial manure hauling.


 

Neighbor and Non-Neighbor Perceptions of Large Scale Agriculture

 

††††††††††† In a Penn State University study neighbors and non-neighbors of large-scale were asked to "agree" or "disagree" with a series of 19 statements dealing with their perceptions of large-scale livestock operations.Of those who responded, the answers of neighbors differed significantly from those of non-neighbors for just five of the items.Neighbors were more likely than non-neighbors to indicate that livestock odors represent a health hazard to people living nearby (47% vs. 25%); to report that odor from large-scale livestock operations are more offensive than other odors associated with farming (59% vs. 40%); to disagree that large-scale livestock operations provide the same economic advantage to an area as other industries (68% vs. 51%); to report that livestock farmers should alter their farming practices to satisfy the desires of nearby residents (74% vs. 60%); and to believe that large-scale livestock operations reduce the value of nearby residential property (77% vs. 64%).

 

For the remaining 14 items, neighbors and non-neighbors did not differ significantly in their pattern of responses.For example, just over 60% of both neighbors and non-neighbors agreed that large-scale livestock operations use environmentally sound practices to prevent water pollution.Nevertheless, nearly the same percentage reported that they believed that animal wastes from large-scale livestock operations pollute nearby surface and ground water (65%), pollute local water supplies (63%), and that governmental controls and site inspections do not eliminate the likelihood that such operations will pollute local water suppliers (61%).Two thirds (67%) believed that large-scale livestock always produce odors that are obnoxious to people living nearby and that people living in the country should expect livestock odors as part of country living (78%).However, 64% reported that they did not agree that livestock farmers should have the right to farm with out local restriction; and 66% felt that large-scale livestock operations should not be permitted near residential areas.More than three-fourths of both neighbors and non-neighbors agreed that spreading manure from large-scale livestock operations on farmland will enhance the quality of the soil and only about one in five believe that the application of large amounts of manure from intensive livestock operations contaminate the soil, making it useless for other agricultural purposes.Thus, while there were some striking differences between neighbors and non-neighbors in the perception of large-scale livestock operations, there were also quite a number of areas of agreement.

 

A sizeable majority of the neighbors indicated that the large scale swine operation located nearby impacted on their lifestyles in various ways.A third (33%) reported that they had often modified their outdoor plans because of odor from the facility; 18% had often decided to not invite friend in because of the odor; 6% felt that the odor from the facility often made them ill, and 22% reported that they often wished that they didn't live in their current location because of the presence of the swine facility.Most (68%) of the neighbors reported that they had complained to friends about odor, but only 31% had ever expressed their concerns to the facility operator.


References:

 

Mikesell, R. E., K. B. Kephart, L. J. Ressler, and Willits, F.K. 2001. Comparison Of Neighbor And Non-Neighbor Perceptions Of Large-Scale Animal Agriculture. An International Symposium on Animal Production and Environmental Issues.  October 3-5, 2001, Research Triangle Park, NC.


Mikesell, R. E., K. B. Kephart, L. J. Ressler, and Willits, F.K. 2001.  Field Testing of Odor Reduction Technologies on Swine Operations. American Farm Bureau Federation's 82nd convention and annual meeting,
Jan. 7-10, 2001.  Orlando, FL.

 

Teaching environmental stewardship to commercial manure haulers through a certification program.  R. J. Meinen, K. B. Kephart, and L. J. Ressler.  Penn State University, University Park, PA.  American Society of Animal Science annual meeting.  July 21-25, 2002,  Quebec City, Canada.