As Ohio's population grows, farm and nonfarm families are increasingly living and sometimes working alongside each other. Farmers who are near the metropolitan areas have been familiar with this trend, while those in more rural areas are seeing pockets of new development around them. There are many benefits for the farmer, nonfarmer, and also the community to living and working together. These include increased awareness and appreciation of interests and increased trust and confidence of farmers and nonfarmers, and a shared sense of community. It is important for the community to grow and sustain that farmers and nonfarmers are mutually respectful. A sense of shared community that is supportive of individual interests enables collective efforts to improve the whole community.
Farming is a business. Just like a private home lot, a farm is private property and neighbors should not trespass on that property. Land that appears vacant can actually be planted with a crop. When riding recreational vehicles or horses on farms, crops and fences may be destroyed. When neighbors pick crops, either for food or decoration, farmers lose money. The farm family, pets, and livestock are endangered when hunters ﬁre their weapons on farms without permission. Farmers may offer the use of their land to a neighbor for some recreational activities. If that’s the case, neighbors should treat the farm with respect. If farmers don't give permission to use their land, neighbors should respect their wishes. Farmers need and appreciate their neighbors’ understanding on these and other farming practices.
New neighbors who have never been exposed to production agriculture might complain about a farm’s noise, pesticide application, odors, dust, or a newly constructed farm building. Farm equipment can be noisy and cause dust to rise in ﬁelds. Farmers plant crops and later harvest their crops within a small window of time. When the time is right and the weather good, the farmer is up at dawn and works long into the night. The good news is that planting and harvesting do not last for long. To reach some ﬁelds, farmers may need to move their equipment on the road. Farm machinery may be wider or slower than it appears, so motorists need to reduce speed and slow down when they see farm machinery on the road.
If invited to visit a farm, it is a good idea to follow some safety practices. Visitors should request permission before feeding, petting, or handling animals. Because farm animals are easily spooked, never approach an animal from behind. Loud noises or sudden movement may also frighten the animal. Always closely supervise children. Never visit a barn or livestock facility unless asked. Without being aware of it, people can spread diseases to animals. Farmers protect their animals from outside human contact to reduce the chances of their animals getting sick. If you want to visit a farm neighbor, phone ﬁrst or stop at the farmhouse or ofﬁce.
Most folks like to talk about what they do, and farmers are no exception. Friendly neighbors ask how farm animals are fed, cared for, and handled, and how the farmer’s growing season is going. By asking questions, neighbors can learn a lot, show interest, and start to become a part of the rural scene. Thanks are always appreciated when visiting the farm home or business.
Farm and nonfarm neighbors have a lot in common. They love their community and want to provide their family with the beneﬁts of rural living. Farmers greatly beneﬁt from being good neighbors. These beneﬁts include pleasant relationships, maintaining a way of life, and ensuring the future success of the agricultural business.
While farmers occasionally lodge complaints, often they are on the receiving end. That is why farmers should be proactive in establishing communication channels with their neighbors. The best approach is to establish communication and develop a relationship before conflict arises. Building mutual trust and understanding will help to prevent and resolve conflicts.
Farmers can reduce hassles by giving some thought to their farming practices. They can avoid spreading manure on Fridays or just before holidays; ask their neighbors to inform them when they are planning a party so manure spreading can be properly timed; and spread manure in the most environmentally friendly method, so that nutrients are absorbed by crops. To keep themselves and motorists safe, farmers should avoid moving machinery on roads during rush hours.
Farmers who take the time to explain their practices, often head off conﬂicts with neighbors. Some farm families have an open house or picnic and show neighbors around the farm.
Sometimes problems arise among farm and nonfarm neighbors. The best method of handling these situations is by neighbors calmly discussing the problem. Unresolved problems can result in conﬂict that permanently damages the relationship.
Neighbors involved in a disagreement can develop mutually acceptable solutions if they are willing to be truthful with themselves and others about their true interests, and openly exchange ideas and plans. Building trust is essential to working through these problems.
Follow these steps toward resolution:
- Carefully select the time and location for the discussion. Sitting down in neutral territory may help. Asking someone to facilitate the meeting who is skillful in mediation and does not have an interest in the outcome may also help.
- Listen carefully to the other person. Respect and try to understand the other person’s feelings and needs.
- Deﬁne the problem in clear concrete terms.
- Work together to generate as many solutions as you can, taking care not to pass judgment on other’s ideas.
- Research the possible solutions to problems. Learn what new methods and technologies can assist in solving the problem. Consult the local Extension ofﬁce for up-to-date research-based information.
- Reach agreement on the most workable solution; one that all involved understand and follow.
- Establish a way to measure how the solution is working.
- If the other person does not live up to his/her end of the bargain, restate the problem and agreed-upon solution, and inform the other person what your next step will be if the problem is not resolved as agreed upon.
Consider legal action or reporting to governmental agencies only if the other person does not work toward the agreed-upon solution or if the other person refuses to meet to discuss the issue. Taking legal action can be expensive and often means that the people involved have little control of the outcome.
Remember to Build a Bank of Good Will
Building a bank of good will before any conflict arises will help in the event a conflict should arise. This can be done in many ways through good communication, involvement in the community, and appropriate consideration for each other. Maintaining good relationships with neighbors are the key to a growing and vibrant community. Living together in rural areas has many rewards. Today’s rural neighbors can enjoy this lifestyle and the new friendships that result from living in a rural community. Having good reliable neighbors is valuable wherever you live but especially in rural communities when a neighbor may be the volunteer on the fire department or a nurse who can help in an emergency situation.
Building strong relationships is the best way to create the kind of community that both farm and nonfarm residents want to call home. As communities grow and expand, enjoying good relationships becomes more important. Getting to know your neighbors, being accessible and talking to people when they have concerns takes time. The effort is rewarded in fewer disputes and greater community support. The best way to resolve a conflict is by managing risks, and building good relationships makes this possible.
New Jersey State Agriculture Development Committee. (September 2009). Farmer-to-Farmer Advice for Avoiding Conflicts with Neighbors and Towns. state.nj.us/agriculture/sadc/publications/farmersadviceforavoidingconflicts.pdf
Finding the Common Ground: Good Neighbor Relations: Advice and Tips from Farmers. (September 2017). University Park, PA: Penn State Extension. extension.psu.edu/finding-the-common-ground-good-neighbor-relations-advice-and-tips-from-farmers
McTavish, G. (January 2005). “Farmer and Neighbour Relations Preventing and Resolving Local Conflicts.” Ontario, Canada: Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food.
Sharp, J.S. and Smith, M. B. (2003). Social capital and farming at the rural-urban interface: the importance of nonfarmer and farmer relations. Agricultural Systems (76) 913-927.
Original author: Barbara H. James, MA, CFCS, Extension agent, Family and Consumer Sciences/Community Development. (Originally published in 1999.)
Editor: Clif Little, associate professor, Ag and Natural Resources educator, OSU Extension, Guernsey County.