Spring is here, which means a busy planting season for dairy producers. For many this also means long days and nights in the field, heavy machinery on the roads and spreading manure. With all of this activity, dairy producers may be scrutinized more closely than in other times of the year as neighbors and consumers who aren’t knowledgeable about dairy farms may find these necessary tasks concerning. Bottom line, spring planting season is an important time to practice good community relations. While this may add another task to an already lengthy laundry list, the risks of ignoring community relations may result in a bad rap for dairy farms. Remember: Neighbors’ opinions could shape issues that have major consequences for dairy farming in the future, including water and air quality policies, and land use and environmental regulations.

Below are a few ideas on how to start spring off right with your neighbors:

  • Be proactive and introduce yourself to your neighbors, creating an opportunity to explain your farm practices.
  • When spring finds you out and about, take advantage of interactions with neighbors. Remind them of the “whys” behind typical farm tasks. For example, “Farmers are stewards of the land and we spread manure on fields in order to replenish nutrients in the soil.”
  • Make sure the community knows that safety is your No. 1 priority. Call neighbors to let them know when there will be a high level of heavy machinery traffic on the roads — especially if neighbors have small children.
  • Have neighbors visit www.dairyfarmingtoday.org for more information.

Dave Kyle, a dairy farmer from Elkhorn, Wis., shares tips on how he builds positive relationships with neighbors.

Q: What extra steps do you take in the spring to be a good neighbor?
Good community relations build social capital. I compost manure to give to our neighbors and community members for fertilizer for their gardens.

We also purchased a new manure spreader with a lid, which contains the manure when we are going down the road. We live a few miles from Chicago’s vacation community, Lake Geneva. People don’t want manure on their cars any more than I want it on my motorcycle. The lid keeps it from splashing when we stop at intersections. The investment was worth the peace of mind and helps us to be good neighbors.

Q: What other steps have you taken to build relations?
Our dairy is on an intersection and our composting operation is on the opposite corner. We have informative signs posted at the composting site to educate the public about what we are doing. We want them to understand why we turn and straighten the rows.

We also host school tours and offer annual dairy tours to the general public.

Q: How does being involved in community organizations build social capital?
Being active in our community puts a face on our dairy. My wife Laurie and I both serve on the Walworth County Dairy Promotion board and serve as dairy judging coaches for the 4-H program. Laurie also is the school librarian, so it keeps us connected to families in the area.

Beyond the ideas shared by Dave Kyle, here are other ideas from producers about how to build community relations:

  • Send neighbors car wash coupons.
  • Send a newsletter notifying neighbors you will be spreading nutrients. Encourage them to contact you if they are holding an outdoor event.
  • In conjunction with other dairy producers, place a small ad in the local paper to let the public know that during spring your dairies will be more active on the roads. List the dairies’ names and phone numbers to encourage the public to call if they have questions.
  • Drop off a one-page flier or fact sheet at each residence that borders your land to tell them about your dairy. Include your values and connection to the land and the community. Mention that you will be spreading nutrients during the next few weeks. Discuss the benefits of using natural fertilizer for the crops.
  • Hold a community appreciation week during the summer offering tours during specific hours.

Source: Dairy Management, Inc.