‘I can’t put nappies on cattle’ - Limerick farmer after air pollution charge

Donal O’Regan

Reporter:

Donal O’Regan

A FARMER who was prosecuted by Limerick County Council’s environment section for two counts of air pollution said: “I can’t put nappies on cattle”.

A FARMER who was prosecuted by Limerick County Council’s environment section for two counts of air pollution said: “I can’t put nappies on cattle”.

Jim Flavin of Croker Lodge, Grange pleaded not guilty to the two charges on March 6 and April 3, 2014. The case lasted for over four hours in Kilmallock Court.

The first witness for the prosecution was Anne Goggin, senior executive engineer in the environment section.

She said Mr Flavin operated a zero-grazing system for fattening beef cattle.

The council’s solicitor, Will Leahy put it to her that it was like “battery chickens” only with cattle.

“Similar,” said Ms Goggin. She said that there were around 6,000 farms in County Limerick and she wasn’t aware of any other one apart from Mr Flavin’s.

Ms Goggin described the odour as “not a typical slurry odour, it was sickly sweet”. She confirmed that Mr Flavin put an additive in the slurry in 2012 to reduce the smell but it didn’t solve the problem.

Ms Goggin said Mr Flavin had around 400 cattle in sheds and she had never seen them grazing on grass.

Dan O’Gorman, representing Mr Flavin, said cattle are grazed on land.

Answering questions from Mr Leahy, Ms Goggin confirmed that while pig and chicken farms require a licence from the EPA and planning permission, cattle farms don’t.

“So the residents’ only forum in this case is the council?” asked Mr Leahy.

“Yes,” said Ms Goggin.

Dr Simon Jennings, executive technician with the council, said he received a complaint 30 minutes before going out on each date.

Mr Leahy said there is no scientific machine to compare to the human nose. It is called a sniff test which Dr Jennings carried out on both occasions.

On March 6, he said he detected an animal feed smell that passed the thresholds to be deemed a nuisance.

Dr Jennings carried out tests at a number of locations but not on the farm because when he rang Mr Flavin there was no answer. The court later heard he was in hospital.

On April 3, Dr Jennings did contact Mr Flavin to ask could he go on the farm and he said “fine”.

Dr Jennings said there was no odour from the bread, maize or wrapped silage and a smell of beer from the barley.

What about when they were “put together” asked Mr Leahy.

“There was a fermented, pickled smell – very acidic,” said Dr Jennings, who put it down to a “chemical reaction”.

He said it wasn’t a smell of slurry.

The EPA guidelines used by Dr Jennings were for a licensed site when he should have used the guidelines for an unlicensed site said Mr O’Gorman.

“I don’t know of one,” said Dr Jennings. Mr O’Gorman produced the document which Mr Jennings said was “practically the same”.

Mr O’Gorman said it wasn’t “best practice”.

He contented that Dr Jennings didn’t undergo the training mentioned in this document; that it recommended that two or more assessors visit the site; they stay at each location for the same time; on the latter occasion he shouldn’t have gone to what he believed the source of the odour was as it would get into his clothes and he shouldn’t have done the second test as he was on antibiotics for a chest infection

Dr Jennings rejected all these assertions.

Mr O’Gorman said the case should be struck out on these grounds.

Mr Leahy said they were all “recommendations” and not like gardai having 27 proofs for a drink driving prosecution. The court heard that the human nose and ability to smell was at the crux of matters

“In an ideal world we would have a ‘smellometer’ but the only scientific measurement is the human nose,” said Mr Leahy.

The local resident who made the complaints on the two dates, Patrick Connolly, said he lived 120/130 metres from the farm.

“Sometimes there is a sweet smell. Other times it is like dead animals,” said Mr Connolly.

He said the smell is 24 hours a day but gets very bad at night time. During the hot weather Mr Connolly said he couldn’t open the windows of his house and people who have called to his house have commented on it.

Andy Dunne, an agri-consultant specialist, appeared on behalf of the defence.

He said there was quite a lot of subjectivity regarding smells and how smells are perceived.

Mr Dunne spoke, at length, about the way the tests were carried out by Dr Jennings meant that his conclusions were in doubt.

“They are guidelines, They have no statutory basis. Dr Jennings used them as a guide,” said Mr Leahy.

Mr Flavin’s Teagasc agri-consultant, Pat Blackwell was the next person to take the stand.

In reply to Mr O’Gorman about it being a “battery hen type operation” he said the current stocking rate was below nitrates directives and is “a fairly well run farm”.

“I can walk around it in my shoes. It is quite clean,” said Mr Blackwell, who added that Mr Flavin finishes cattle which is not an unusual activity.

He said that a Department of Agriculture inspection for nitrates on February 8, 2012, resulted in no penalties and there were no dead animals or carcasses on the farm. It also has Bord Bia quality assurance, the court heard.

David Walsh, agri-consultant, said after complaints were made Mr Flavin put a compound to reduce odour emissions into his slurry and changed from pit silage to baled silage to prevent the smell from effluent run-off.

Mr Walsh said Mr Flavin went to a lot of expense to reduce odours; the farm was clean and tidy and he got no strong or offensive odours on his visits.

Last to enter the witness box was Mr Flavin who said he runs a farm-to-fork operation and has two butcher shops in Limerick city.

Mr Flavin said he has used best practice to reduce emissions and that every farm in the county uses silage.

Mr Leahy put it to him that he has a “desperate” relationship with his neighbours.

“I wouldn’t say that,” said Mr Flavin.

Mr Leahy said Mr Flavin didn’t once knock on his neighbours’ doors to see “what can we do to live in peace”. Mr Leahy said he had neighbours “lining up” to give evidence.

Mr Flavin said they can ring him any time; it was them who took him to court and it doesn’t cost them anything to do it.

“I take great care of my farm,” he said.

Asked about the alleged odours coming from his farm, Mr Flavin said: “If I got a sweet smell in the morning I’d be delighted.”

He denied operating a zero grazing operation and that he keeps his cattle in sheds for 12 months a year.

“When I buy cattle if they are the right size I finish them inside. If they are leaner then I leave them off on grass and then I bring them in,” said Mr Flavin.

He said the smell was exaggerated as there is going to be a smell on a farm.

“I can’t put nappies on cattle,” said Mr Flavin.

Judge Mary Larkin found the facts proved but did not convict Mr Flavin as Mr Leahy said a fine of €5,000 going to the Minister for Finance would not solve anything.

It was agreed between the two parties that the court case would be adjourned back to Kilmallock until the middle of November for the parties to engage.

Speaking after the case Mr Flavin said he has “nothing to hide” and his neighbours or any of his customers were welcome to visit his farm in Grange by appointment.