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From the Editor: September-October 2017

Public perception can become policy


Drag hose operator Rick Martens has seen a lot of things in his 30-plus years as a custom applicator. Most of it’s been positive.

“We’re doing a good job,” he said during a recent presentation at the 2017 North American Manure Expo. “This industry has come so far in the last 20 years. It’s incredible.”

But he’s discovered there is a growing disconnect between the people doing the work in the fields and the general population whizzing by in their cars or gazing out their front windows. It hit home for him when he was forwarded a video showing an applicator crew applying manure in Wisconsin.

“Basically, in this video, it was the end of a dragline system, they were blowing out the hose and they were about to receive the pig,” Martens recalled. “You could see the last of the liquid coming out the pig launcher and you could see how the [liquid manure] fans out.

“If you’re familiar with that operation, you’re looking at it, thinking: ‘Okay, he’s just cleaning the pig out.’”

But that’s not the conclusion the majority of people reached as they viewed the publicly posted video.

“[They] were making comments on it and putting it through to the Wisconsin DNR, saying: ‘This is happening. What’s going on here?’”

As executive director of the Minnesota Custom Applicators Association, the experience prompted Martens to put together a presentation he has been delivering to manure applicators. The message? Be involved in the industry and be aware of how you’re presenting your business to others.

“Public perception may become public policy,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s right. It doesn’t matter if it’s wrong. It’s what the public’s perception is of what you’re doing.”

Ask the average American citizen today what a manure spreader looks like and they will most likely describe the small solid spreader used by their great-grandparents 80 years ago. Anything that doesn’t meet their quaint idea of farming is considered “industrial” or “corporate.” This should be a concern for a technologically advanced industry handling millions of gallons of manure annually.

“You think about the technology that’s come in, how fast we’re getting things done. It is amazing,” said Martens. “But we need to tell our story. We need to be out with the public, letting them know what’s going on. And being professional about it.”

He suggests custom manure applicators take a close look at their business and consider how they might appear to an urban dweller with no experience of rural life.

“What are people seeing when you’re out working? Do they notice what you’re doing?” Martens asked. “What you’re doing out there reflects on the rest of us.”

Ultimately, he would like to see more custom manure applicators involved in the industry and spreading the good word about the work they do.

“Be involved in public policy and the local industry organizations. Go to the local meetings. Stay up-to-date on state and national issues. As an organization and as applicators, we need to know what’s going on, not only in the field but what’s coming from public perception.

“We need a voice in the industry.”