Being a good farm neighbor

by Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Neighborliness seems an integral aspect of the rural life of yesteryear. In current times, the busy pace of life may make it difficult for you to get to know your neighbors. While your grandparents may have farmed alongside a farming neighbor, it’s more likely that your neighbors do not farm. They have little understanding of what you do for a living and how your farm operates. MidAtlantic Women in Agriculture hosted “Helping Farmers to be Good Neighbors” as a recent webinar presented by Dr. Jon Moyle, poultry specialist with University of Maryland Extension, and Jenny Rhodes, principal ag agent with University of Maryland.

“When someone comes up your lane, they should have a good feeling about your farm,” Rhodes said. Green grass, a nice driveway and no weeds growing around buildings shows that the farm is maintained.

Being a good farm neighbor

Hosting a farm open house can help neighbors become better acquainted with your operation. Photo by Deborah J. Sergeant

Since you see your farm all day, every day, it can be difficult to see your own shortcomings. Rhodes said bringing someone else to offer a critical eye can help. “Ask ‘What do I need to do here?’”

In addition to detracting from your farm’s appearance, clutter can harm your operation. “Junk can harbor places that attract rodents,” Moyle said. Rhodes added while you may have a pile to take to the scrapyard, keep it neat.

She also said weeds can provide a rodent and pest habitat. “You can control it with chemicals or weed eaters,” Rhodes said.

Cement pads in front of buildings can become covered with debris and clods of dirt. A broom attachment on front of a loader can make clean-up a snap. Feed spills are both unsightly and attracts pests and flies. “You don’t want flies on your farm and your neighbor doesn’t either,” Rhodes said.

Keeping the property tidy can help reduce the risk of rodents; however, it may still require bait boxes. Rhodes said rotating the bait is important for long-term success in controlling rodent populations. “If you see one mouse, there are probably 50 more,” Rhodes said. “Figure out where strategically you need to place bait boxes. Place them where there’s a source of feed. Get baited up in the fall because they move out of the fields and into wherever they find shelter.”

Controlling flies is all about reducing the effect of attractants, like compost, feed and manure, and using insecticides, zappers, traps and strips. “There are a lot of things to control flies; you have to think about what works on your operation,” Rhodes said.

Cleaning up messes promptly is usually easier than letting them sit around a while. “If you have a teenager in trouble, send them out with a broom,” Moyle said.

Rhodes said in addition to mowing, keeping equipment put away not only looks tidier, but helps protect it from the elements. Large equipment can leave ruts in driveways and other areas. Those will end up as puddles once it rains or snow melts. To prevent these issues, Rhodes suggested building quality driveways around buildings.

“You’re going to have to invest money in your farm,” she said. “Good driveways and roadways around the farm are important. Put it in your budget.” In high traffic areas such as near the openings of buildings, you may need a concrete pad because it will be easier to keep the area neat.

“You should block off grass areas to avoid ruts, water and mosquitos,” Rhodes said. In addition to a nice patch of green, Moyle said grassy areas help prevent rain from washing out areas.

After improving your farm’s appearance, you should ponder other ways in which your farm affects your neighbors. “Think about that you’re not positioning lights so they shine onto your neighbors’ at night,” Rhodes said.

Consider your farm’s odors. On poultry farms, mortality freezers for dead birds can reduce odors and unsightly appearance. “They’re clean and easy to access,” Moyle said.

Rhodes added that scavengers and even the neighbor’s dog may enjoy getting into compost piles, so farm operators should make sure they secure piles.

“Vegetative buffers can be a screen so no one can see your farm or to capture dust,” Moyle said. He recommended finding plants that can withstand various farm environmental factors like blowing fans and dust. These could include holly trees, switch grass and evergreens.

“Some plants have different insect challenges,” Moyle said. “Some need more maintenance to keep them insect-free. Those nutrients get washed down to the roots of the plant so the plant can recycle them.”

Rhodes encouraged farmers to ask their zoning boards about requirements for planting such a project. Planting buffers “is in your best interest so you can avoid issues with neighbors,” Moyle said.

He’s seen more operators planting pollinator plots between the house and outbuildings and along the edges of the farm.

Some plants can help repel flies from your property, including lemongrass, lemon thyme, mint, rosemary, safe, catnip, fennel, lemon balm and oregano. These natural repellents are also attractive and useful plants.

Nutrient management is also important for being a good neighbor. Rhodes encouraged people to check with local ordinances to abide by water quality and other standards when forming their management plans. A management plan should include elements such as a soil test, yield goals, fertility recommendations, recordkeeping, reporting and inspection. Local Extension agents may be helpful in developing the plan.

Communication is also big part of nutrient management. “Develop a good relationship and educate [your neighbors] about the things that you do,” Rhodes said. “You can refer them to a county agent like myself to explain to them what’s going on on the farm.” This can be especially important before you spread manure, for example. If a neighbor is planning to hang laundry, it would be important to know that first.

“If you see a problem coming up, let them know, like you’re going to move your birds or if you’re spreading manure,” Moyle said. “For simple things like that, let your neighbors know and be aware of what’s going on with them. You’ll get a lot more good will than if you do things without saying a word.”

Developing a relationship will also help if something goes wrong on the farm, like a spill or livestock get loose. “If your neighbors have concerns, look for solutions,” Rhodes said. “Just being friendly goes a long way.”

Moyle also encouraged farmers to promote agriculture in the community. “If people know us, they’re more likely to want to help us,” he said.

“Join the community board or school board,” Rhodes offered. “Have an elevator speech to explain what you do. Keep it short, sweet and to the point and engaging.”

It may also help to invite neighbors for a tour to generate good will. Share some extra crops or products you raise, if applicable.

When issues arise, “you want them to work with them rather than fight you,” Moyle said.

An existing relationship goes a long way toward a friendly encounter when something on the farm affects the community.

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