The National Pork Producers Council's (NPPC) On-Farm Odor/Environmental Assistance Program has a big name, and it could save producers big headaches. The program offers free consulting advice by bringing well-trained experts in the fields of manure management, crop consulting and odor control right to their production sites.

The purpose of the program is to help producers identify areas in their operation that may need correction. The producer sees the operation every day and may not notice subtle changes that could impact the environment. The assessment provides a fresh set of eyes - and noses - to identify challenges before they become big problems. One of the main goals of the On-Farm Odor/Environmental Assistance Program assessment is to prevent an environmental problem or challenge from occurring, according to Dan Uthe, program director.

Assessment In Pairs Two assessors, such as an agricultural engineer and a crop consultant, conduct every site visit. Having two assessors helps insure a more balanced assessment. The assessors walk through the operation, answer questions and take time to explain to a producer why certain situations could become a problem.

The information gained from the farm visits is not passed on to regulatory agencies. If there is a flagrant, reportable violation the producer would be informed first. The producer is giventhe first opportunity to report the violation.

No reportable violations have been found in the more than 500 assessments that have been conducted to date.

No Charge There is no charge to producers for the assessment. The funding for the project comes from an American Clean Water Foundation grant. The assessment identifies things a producer can change, however, it is up to the producer to financially implement the changes. If problem areas are identified, resource people to help correct the problem are suggested - university extension service, National Resources Conservation Service or private consultants, for example.

The Process The time required for an audit varies according to the type of production site. Uthe estimates an average farrow-to-finish operation could be audited in six hours.

The process consists of an entrance interview to gain a working knowledge about the operation. Next, the assessors walk through the operation, being careful to observe the farm's biosecurity rules. The producer needs to accompany the assessors during the site visit in order to answer questions and receive suggestions. An exit interview follows the walk-through.

The producer receives a written report with the assessors' conclusions within a month of the visit.

Parts Of The Assessment Before an assessment team will visit a farm, the producer must first contact his or her state pork producer association. An assessment form is sent to the producer prior to the assessors' visit.

The same forms must be used throughout the U.S., whether an assessment is conducted in North Carolina, Iowa or Hawaii. This ensures uniformity in questions asked and in areas viewed at every operation assessed.

Form A is the request form the producer fills out to request the assessment and to provide information about the operation. This form gives the assessment team an idea of what they are going to see when they go out to the farm. It includes operation location, type of operation (i.e., farrow-to-finish, nursery only, finish only, etc.), a description of the buildings, an explanation of the manure containment system and details about land application plans.

Form B is divided into 10 separate sections, each dealing with a specific part of the operation. This form is what the assessment team uses during the walk-through of the operation.

Each extensive section of the form deals with a specific part of the operation. There is a section on anaerobic lagoons, for example. Another deals strictly with manure containment. There is also a section on dead pig disposal.

Every producer gets a written report following the assessment. The written report is designed to be 3-7 pages long and is presented in easy-to-understand terminology. The first section of the report lists any high-risk areas that need to be addressed immediately. Other sections deal with topics such as the general site, buildings, manure containments, land application and mortalities.

The report outlines strengths, challenges and recommendations in each category.

Strengths - Uthe says assessors find a lot more strengths in operations than challenges.

Challenges - What topics does the producer need to address? What areas have the potential to be a problem?

Recommendations - "For every challenge we need to have a recommendation," Uthe explains. "It doesn't do any good to list the challenges unless we have a recommendation about how to correct the challenge."

Betty Baker, Baker Finishing Farm Inc., Holdenville, OK, participated in the On-Farm Odor/Environmental Assistance Program and had an on-farm assessment. Baker wants to do as much as she can to control odor from her 6,000-head finishing farm.

Baker notes the suggestions made during her assessment were helpful. "The assessors suggested things like putting more gravel around buildings to help reduce vegetation," she explains.

NPPC has been tracking the implementation rate for suggested changes. Uthe says producers have been quick to correct potential problem areas. "In some cases, employees have been busy making suggested changes before the assessors even leave the site," Uthe says.

Unlimited Participation The On Farm Odor/Environmental Assistance Program was announced in 1997 and started in the spring of 1998. The producers who participated to date ranged in size from 40 sows to several thousand sows, from one building to dozens of buildings on a site, and from total confinement to some outdoor operations. There is no limit to the number of producers who can participate in the program. NPPC's goal is to see every U.S. pork producer go through the assessment.

The On-Farm Odor/Environmental Assistance Program has the opportunity to be an on-going program. Producers may be able to have inspections repeated on a regular basis in the future.

Information from the assessments could prove valuable in the future, too. NPPC has been putting together an anonymous database using information gathered from inspected sites. The database could eventually be used as a research tool to help evaluate topics such as what types of manure containment systems work best in a particular area or what kind of troubleshooting has worked in the past for a specific problem.

Baker says the program gives producers a chance to be proactive and offers a positive approach to finding odor solutions.

Producers interested in setting up a site visit should contact their state pork producers association and ask for information regarding the "On-Farm Odor/Environmental Assistance Program," or contact Dan Uthe, NPPC, at (515) 223-2600.