Are Ag Odor and Noise So Different?

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At the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors, I have recounted the story that upon arriving at our vineyard, one of the grandkids while getting out of the car asked: “Granddad, why does the vineyard smell like pepperoni?” The smell was of course cannabis. Whether it was from a legal grow, bad actor, or homeowner’s backyard stash was unknown.

It seems ironic that the proposed winery ordinance, for an industry that sells smell, had an odor abatement requirement. Surprisingly, the cannabis ordinance had no odor abatement requirement for an industry that everyone agrees can stink.

The Planning Commission is holding marathon workshops to craft recommendations for amendments to the cannabis ordinance. At the session on February 5, a suggestion was made for a requirement that cannabis odor stop at the property line. While this may sound good, it is a dangerous precedent for farmers.

Our vineyard is on the north side of Highway 246. Across the road from us are several hundred acres of farmland that for many years were planted to broccoli and Brussel sprouts. Two or three times each year for five days or so when the vegetables are harvested, our vineyard smelled like broccoli or Brussel sprouts — an aroma that some may like but I find unpleasant. That is the problem with odors — they are very individual.

When young, our granddaughter spent every spare moment at the horse stable. She invited my wife, Cathy, into the stable and said: “Grandma, don’t you just love the smell?” Cathy said, “Of course, dear,” but later confided to me all she could smell was horse sweat and merde.

It is not a very big step from requiring cannabis odors to stop at the property line to requiring all farm odors to stop at the property line. I suggest farmers would be better served if we treated farm odors like we treat farm noise. Some of us in the vineyard business use noisy wind machines for frost protection and air cannons during harvest to scare the birds. These noises don’t stop at the property line but do diminish with distance. Noise, like odor, can be measured at the property line and appropriately limited. The Planning Commission should establish a maximum measurable odor threshold which is realistic for responsible growers.

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