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Feedlot odors measured by average noses

Fri, Oct 4th, 2002
Posted in Features

At its regular September meeting, the Fillmore County Planning Commission heard a presentation from Kevin Janni of the University of Minnesota’s Biosystem and Agriculture Engineering program on research that has been conducted on feedlot odors and potential building setbacks.

The olfactory project in which Mr. Janni has been a leader, attempts to determine just what the average human nose can smell, under average conditions, at different distances from an odor source.

Using trained smellers, or human odor detectors, odor modeling, and a scientifically developed odor intensity scale, the research has yielded a setback estimation tool called OFFSET that planners and local governments can use to establish residence setback requirements from feedlots.

The planning commission special program was well attended by county commissioners, township officers, feedlot operators, and county citizens who live near feedlots. Two of the seven men who make up the county’s planning commission were absent.

The research work that Mr. Janni presented, funded in part by the university, the legislature, and the Minnesota Pork Producers Association, was conducted at confined animal feedlot operations in southeast and central Minnesota, and was confined to measuring odors from the feedlots themselves and not from the odors associated with the application of manures on agricultural lands.

The odor model includes a variable sliding scale of "nuisance free" setbacks, whereby officials select a percentage of nuisance-free time as the threshold that determines the actual setback requirement.

For example, a 99 percent nuisance-free threshold would require a greater setback distance, perhaps as much as four to six thousand feet, and should only allow neighbors to detect the odor on an average of seven hours each month. According to Mr. Janni, most feedlot odor complaints come from people at a distance closer than the 94 percent nuisance-free threshold.

A sliding scale displayed by Mr. Janni showed that as the percentage of nuisance-free tolerance is reduced, so, too, is the setback distance reduced. According to Mr. Janni, county officials, should they adopt Mr. Janni’s program, could decide which nuisance-free threshold they would use for particular areas.

Mr. Janni indicated that Nicollet County has implemented the model and used different nuisance-free thresholds depending on the proximity to development, cities, or communities.

After explaining how the modeling program worked, Mr. Janni discussed odor reduction strategies that feedlot operators can implement to work in concert with the OFFSET tool. These strategies included the installation of biofilters, geotextile filters, manure crusting, impermeable covers, and oil sprinkling.

The Fillmore County Feedlot Officer, Mike Frauenkron, has encouraged the county to look into the use of biofilters for feedlots as a way to reduce odor emissions. These filters are basically large, organic beds of wood chips located on the exterior walls of the containment buildings at the exhaust source.

In a biofilter system, odorous air is funneled by fans from the manure storage pit directly into the bed of wood chips where microorganisms destroy the odors. The cost of a biofilter is estimated to be about $150 to $200 per 1000 cubic feet of air treated.

"We think biofilters are effective," explained Mr. Janni.

However, Mr. Janni also noted that "odor control is more of a challenge on curtain-sided barns," a style that is typical of hog confinement buildings that are constructed in Fillmore County. He also noted that during the humid summer and fall a biofilter might only treat about one third of the air.

Mr. Lynn Tienter of Carimona Township inquired if Mr. Janni’s research had included any study on the impact on humans of gases emitted from feedlots. Mr. Janni replied that it had not.

Mr. Janni also informed the group that his department’s research had not taken into account the cumulative effects of feedlot concentration.

To a question from Dave Mensink, also of Carimona Township, regarding potential cost-share for biofilters, Mr. Frauenkron replied that the county had some cost-share dollars available to operators, up to $1000 each.

The planning commission took no action upon the completion of Mr. Janni’s presentation. No other business was conducted by the commission.

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