Last week I had the opportunity to tour RiverView Dairy at Morris, Minnesota. I was part of group of ag engineers who were interested in viewing the application of evaporative pads and tunnel ventilation to a 5000 cow dairy barn.
While the ventilation system and the challenges something this large presents were interesting, the big take home message for me was the comment that the director of human resources for the Dairy made while guiding us around the site – What are you doing for your social license? The owners of this dairy feel that they must not only meet and exceed every permit requirement imposed by federal, state and local government agencies, but also must work at making the community feel good about having them in the community. They refer to this as their ‘social license’ or their public perception in a community.
Have you as a participant in the pork industry thought about your efforts in support of your social license? I know that I have thought somewhat about how the public has perceived the research sites I’ve been involved in during my career. I also know that many of you work hard and take pride in how your facilities look.
The challenge for the livestock industry is to get everyone involved in production to think in terms of their social license. As we know, the outside challenges to our production methods continue to increase, be it a challenge to how we store and land apply manure, challenges to our housing systems on the basis of perceived animal rights and welfare criteria, or challenges to our business models of limited liability partnerships and corporations. All of these challenges suggest that as an industry, we have been less than effective in communicating with our communities as our industry has evolved.
Communication with our surrounding community members is a key component of the ‘social license’ that we most often have failed to consider as we do our daily production routines. As production agriculture continues to evolve, and fewer community members have first hand knowledge of our production methods and decisions, the idea of managing with regard to your ‘social license’ will increase in importance.