Know Thy Neighbors, or Meet Their Lawyers

We live in disquieting times. The tariffs slapped on U.S. pork going to China, the lack of a re-negotiated North American Free Trade Agreement, and other policy decisions have put the pork industry on edge. But an issue much closer to home should have you just as concerned.

The pending nuisance lawsuit in North Carolina against Smithfield subsidiary Murphy-Brown LLC, could change the way the pork industry does business if the judge rules for the plaintiffs. In fact, there are a total of 26 federal lawsuits filed by more than 500 plaintiffs who live near hog farms in eastern North Carolina (read the full article here). The lawsuits are about odor and particles from uncovered lagoons.

Did odors exist before out-of-state lawyers came to town and rallied the neighbors into becoming part of a lawsuit? More than likely. It was probably the combination of lack of communication, encouragement from said lawyers, and an effort to take a stand against “big ag” that helped convince plaintiffs to take the step toward litigation. It also may have been the lack of a plan to address potential problems, or the lack of positive, proactive neighbor relations.

Could It Have Been Avoided?
It’s hard to say what makes people angry or upset enough to be part of a lawsuit. For some, country living conjures up pleasant images but farming and animal production are businesses: tractors are noisy and livestock produce waste. For displaced urbanites whose backgrounds are far removed from the farm, their perceptions of country life are often unrealistic.

Lower income families may feel they don’t have a voice, or aren’t comfortable addressing issues with their neighbors. They may have lived in a place for a long time, while their surroundings continued to change due to forces outside their control.

Those of us who grew up on farms have learned to take the pleasant with the unpleasant, recognizing that odors are a normal byproduct of livestock production. But even I appreciate the fact that our neighbors knife-in the manure from their facilities, and do everything they can to minimize odor.

In other words, they work hard to do the right thing.

This is about farmers sitting down with neighbors, talking and taking steps to ensure quality of life for those around them. The very best operations hold open houses or appreciation events as a thank you to neighbors and customers. They practice the Golden Rule every day: Do unto others as you would have done to you.

Rural communities were built on how neighbors treated neighbors. Regardless of the size of your operation, that’s something you can’t forget.

And perhaps, through a well-planned effort on the part of each producer and the industry, maybe the next potential lawsuit can be avoided.