Rais­ing a stink over farm­ing? Time to chill out

Manteca Bulletin - - Opinion - DEN­NIS WY­ATT This col­umn is the opin­ion of ex­ec­u­tive ed­i­tor, Den­nis Wy­att, and does not nec­es­sar­ily rep­re­sent the opin­ion of The Bul­letin or Mor­ris News­pa­per Corp. of CA. He can be con­tacted at dwy­att@man­te­cab­ul­letin.com or 209.249.3519.

(Ed­i­tor’s note: Den­nis Wy­att is on va­ca­tion. This col­umn first ap­peared on April 20, 2014.)

The home­owner was miffed. He left a voice mes­sage, but no name or call back num­ber. What he wanted was clear: He wanted some­one to do some­thing about the ma­nure smell that he has been pick­ing up a whiff of for the past few days and do it now. From how he de­scribed the neigh­bor­hood he lives in it sounds like it might be in the south­ern part of Man­teca.

I’ve got bad news for the caller. Man­teca is a right to farm com­mu­nity. And that is how it should be.

For the past two decades or so, when you close es­crow on a home in Man­teca — new or resale — you sign off on a form that ac­knowl­edges you are aware that Man­teca is a right to farm com­mu­nity. Sim­ply put, that means you have no re­course, le­gal or oth­er­wise, to go af­ter gen­er­ally ac­cepted farm­ing prac­tices if you have a gripe with the dust, the smell, or the hours of op­er­a­tion.

It al­ways strikes me as odd that many peo­ple are against new de­vel­op­ment once they move in be­cause they want to pre­serve be­ing on the edge of the coun­try. At the same time they will of­ten com­plain non-stop about farm smells and odors drift­ing their way. Some­times they com­plain to county and city au­thor­i­ties.

They ex­pect the farm­land around them to stay for­ever but at the same time they don’t want to em­brace farm­ing.

Per­haps it has a lot to do with the fact less than 2 per­cent of Amer­i­cans still live ei­ther on a work­ing farm or a hobby farm. As such, they are ig­no­rant of what it takes to make sure food is avail­able to put in their bel­lies

Try to pro­duce milk with­out gen­er­at­ing ma­nure. At­tempt to har­vest or pre­pare fields with­out cre­at­ing dust. It can’t be done.

Be­sides, the dust and odor is­sues aren’t 24/7, 365 days a year.

Spreck­els Sugar could stink up a neigh­bor­hood to high heav­ens thanks to odors put off by the process of pro­cess­ing sugar beets.

Most of the smell went south where wisely no one built homes. It is also why trav­el­ers along the 120 By­pass would re­fer to Man­teca as Manstinka. About once a month or so, the winds would shift di­rec­tion and blow the smell to­ward neigh­bor­hoods. It wasn’t pleas­ant but you learned to live with it.

Farm­ing is also not a 9-to-5 job. When a crop needs to be har­vested na­ture only gives you a small win­dow. That could mean work­ing 14-to 16 hour days us­ing equip­ment that makes noise.

Some folks who have com­plained in the past about farm smells and dust ac­cused farm­ers of not be­ing good stew­ards of the land.

That’s like telling Mother Teresa she isn’t a hu­man­i­tar­ian.

Farm­ers have no choice but to be good stew­ards of re­sources or else they will be out of busi­ness. If they don’t care for the soil they can ex­haust it, make it ster­ile, or ren­der it use­less in other ways. With­out soil you can’t grow any­thing.

The same is true for water. They can’t af­ford to waste it. Water costs farm­ers big money whether they pump it from the ground or take it from an ir­ri­ga­tion line.

About 12 years ago a new home­owner near Wood­ward Park who was upset about agri­cul­tural dust ar­gued farm­ers were cre­at­ing a dust bowl.

Guess again. Man­teca — es­pe­cially south of the 120 By­pass — has mas­sive amounts of sandy loam soil. It is why the com­mu­nity and the sur­round­ing farm­land was known in the late 19th cen­tury as the sandy plains.

With­out veg­e­ta­tion cov­er­ing all of the sandy loam soil — a sce­nario that never hap­pens nat­u­rally, wind whips up dust storms. The se­cur­ing of ir­ri­ga­tion water and the ad­vent of farm­ing in the Man­teca re­gion made soil con­di­tions more sta­ble. Dry land farm­ers and those who re­lied on rain started ex­haust­ing the soil based on de­clin­ing an­nual yields per acre as noted in his­tor­i­cal ac­counts be­fore 1900. Sur­face water along with deeper till­ing of the ground cre­ated con­di­tions in and around Man­teca that Ge­orge Perry Sr. once noted, “you can plant just about any­thing in the ground and it will grow.”

The urban de­vel­op­ment south of the 120 By­pass has also helped cut down on dust. Twenty years ago it was com­mon for dust storms to whip across the 120 By­pass mak­ing driv­ing haz­ardous. Tum­ble­weeds were so nu­mer­ous they’d pile up against the con­crete me­dian bar­rier that is now gone as well as stack up against guard rails and sound walls.

To­day tum­ble­weeds along the 120 By­pass are few and far be­tween. At the same time, tule fog has di­aled back sig­nif­i­cantly as rooftops and pave­ments cover the sandy loam. At one time, the 120 By­pass was con­sis­tently ranked as the third worst area for driv­ing in dense fog be­hind two ar­eas near Fresno.

If you don’t like farm smells, oc­ca­sional dust is­sues, or oc­ca­sional late night sounds of al­mond blos­soms be­ing sprayed then you may want to con­sider liv­ing some­where else.

Man­teca is part of the North­ern San Joaquin Val­ley — `the most pro­duc­tive agri­cul­tural re­gion on the planet.

Those smells, odors, and noise are what it takes to put plen­ti­ful and rel­a­tively in­ex­pen­sive food on your ta­ble.

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