Even though many of our farms have been in our communities for generations, that doesn’t mean we can have a “we were here first” attitude. Quite to the contrary, neighbor relations should be at the forefront of every dairy farm business, large or small, because good deeds done today can pay dividends for years to come.

A group of farm-friendly attorneys doubled down on that advice during a panel at the Western Dairy Management Conference. Even though the discussion focused on environmental matters, their sage thoughts apply to many areas of our businesses.

Dairy farmers don’t automatically have a social license to expand or even the right to operate a business, for that matter. The lawyers unanimously agreed that positive community relations pay dividends in both avoiding and defending environmental litigation. By opening lines of communication, neighbors may come to you first, not regulators or other sharp-shooting attorneys.

While one-on-one positive neighbor relations are important, so too is convincing all dairy farmers to cleanup their act. “Remember, those attorneys seeking to make case law go after ‘black hat’ targets,” stated a panelist. “Peer pressure from fellow dairy producers may be the best way to get slackers back on track because positive neighbor relations sometimes cannot go beyond our weakest link,” noted another attorney.

While many of us have generations of dairy expertise, we don’t know everything. “Surround yourself with people that will challenge you,” stated a third attorney, who reminded audience members that smart, well-spoken advisers will improve your business.

Place energy into following and updating your nutrient management plan, not just when problems develop. “Not only should you follow your nutrient management plan, document events such as manure hauling, application rates, and any soil, manure, or crop testing. Good records are critical,” a fourth attorney from the coast-to-coast, border-to-border panel explained. “Know your plan, read your insurance policy, and talk to your neighbors,” the attorney continued.

While the advice was specific to environmental issues, the sentiment applies to other areas on our dairies. Admittedly, building goodwill takes time, but those efforts may have incredible payback.