If you have sons or daughters in college, steer them into the environmental engineering field. Because in the next few years, the pork industry will put a big claim on that engineering specialty.

A new program being developed through the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) will require the services of many more environmental engineers than currently work in the livestock industry. The work of the engineers will go a long way in helping pork producers solve odor problems that threaten the viability of the industry.

The program is known as the On-Farm Odor Management Assistance Program. Engineers will conduct on-farm odor assessments and suggest solutions. NPPC will foot the assessment cost, including testing and the engineers' fees. But producers must pay for the solutions recommended to solve their odor problems.

NPPC announced plans for the ambitious program last summer. These unprecedented plans were approved by the NPPC leadership to help producers deal with hog farm odor problems. Some $1.5 million in checkoff funds was allocated to the program.

Odor Assistance Plans Tentative plans for the On-Farm Odor Management Assistance Program were recently announced by NPPC and engineers involved in the program. Beginning as early as March 1, pork producers may begin requesting a free assessment of their farm's odor situation. State pork producer groups will coordinate requests and assign engineers to do assessments.

Estimated cost of the program for the first year is $1.5 million. Program setup and assessments on 24 pilot farms is expected to cost $500,000, according to Earl Dotson, NPPC vice president of environment, education and production research. That leaves $1 million to conduct about 1,200 on-farm assessments in 1998, he adds.

NPPC hopes on-farm assessments on another 3,500 farms will be completed in 1999 and 6,000 assessments in 2000.

Dotson says meeting these goals will require a large group of consulting engineers working in the program. He estimates 17 engineers working fulltime on the assessments will be needed next year. In 1999, 30 fulltime engineers will be needed to meet the goal, and in 2000, 80 fulltime engineers will be required. The engineers will be contracted from universities or private industry.

Dotson says a great deal of time and effort on the part of many engineers has gone into formulating an effective assessment program. A group of 50 engineers from private industry, government and universities met this fall at NPPC to hammer out the protocol for a complete odor evaluation on hog operations.

As part of the evaluations, the engineers devised a written survey that is sent to the pork producer prior to a farm visit. They also developed a detailed form to be used during the on-farm visit. A training manual was drafted to help engineers conduct the assessments.

All of the procedures are designed to help engineers thoroughly evaluate odor problems and the potential for problems. The survey and forms to be used during on-farm visits are being tested on 24 pilot farms this winter. Pork producer groups from Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri and North Carolina selected six farms each to participate in the pilot study. These surveys are currently underway.

On-Farm Protocol A group of three engineers will conduct the on-farm assessment. During the visit, they will check over the hog operation for odor problems including manure storage and land application. They will also enter some buildings, but each farm's biosecurity rules will be followed.

Mike Veenhuizen of Livestock Engineering Solutions, Greenwood, IN, has participated in a pilot assessment. He says the on-farm visits usually require 2-4 hours. After the visit, reports are written up and recommendations developed to reduce odor problems, bringing the total time commitment to 3-5 days/assessment. Veenhuizen notes the engineers involved in developing the program are donating their time, only being reimbursed for travel expenses.

Dotson estimates the total cost of each assessment will run between $500-2,000/farm.

The pilot farm testing will be more expensive, however. A wide range of air and manure tests are being conducted and compared. For example, air samples from the pilot farms are being evaluated by trained odor panels at Iowa State University and the University of Minnesota. Other air samples and manure samples are being evaluated in laboratories. The array of tests should help the engineers determine which tests best evaluate odor problems.

NPPC hopes the on-farm assessments will help producers reduce hog odors. Andy Baumert, NPPC director of environmental services, says, "This is a unique effort with private industry. We've had the tools to handle hog odor, we've just not put it all together before."

The On-Farm Odor program will tie into another odor program being developed by NPPC called the Odor Solutions Initiative. The Odor Solutions Initiative will award $3.5 million in checkoff funds for effective and practical odor solutions in the next couple of years. Details of this program have not been announced.

NPPC expects the answers found in the solutions program to be used to solve odor problems uncovered in the On-Farm Odor Assistance Program.