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Jury says hog odors not a nuisance
Farmers in southern Minnesota are welcoming a jury verdict which cleared a hog producer of allegations that his livestock caused nuisance odors. A New Ulm couple claimed fumes from hog manure stored on the farm were so offensive they were forced to move. The jury said hog odors are not a nuisance.

Worthington, Minn. — It's been a difficult seven years for Jerome Forst. That's how long he's been fighting odor complaints about his farm near New Ulm. Things got easier Monday when a jury ruled in his favor.

"Right now, I tell you, my brain has been overtaxed for the last few days," says Forst. "I don't wish that anybody has to ever go through something like this. It's tough."

Forst says the odors from his farm are an ordinary part of life in the country. He predicts the verdict will set a precedent, giving farmers protection against lawsuits. Forst says judging by the response he's had since the jury decided the case, most people support him.

"In fact this morning the telephone hasn't quit ringing. People calling up and saying how happy they are for us. The whole neighborhood, it's just been terrific," says Forst.

Forst raises hogs for the Wakefield Pork company. Hog manure is stored in an outdoor lagoon. Neighbors Gerald and Julie Wendinger complained for almost a decade about odors from the farm. They sued three years ago. They claimed the hog odors at times were so offensive they couldn't be outside. They said the stench eventually caused them to leave the farm and move to town. Their attorney, Tom Dunnwald, says the hog farm deprived the couple of the use of their land.

"You have exclusive use to your property. And if that's impacted then you have recourse to the courts," says Dunnwald.

The case was tried in Nicollet County District Court in St. Peter. Clark Tuttle, attorney for the hog farmers, says a turning point in the case was testimony from others who lived near the farm. They said the odors were not a problem.

"One of those witnesses lived in the plaintiff's residence after the plaintiff had sold it, for over a year," says Tuttle. "And expressed to the jury her enjoyment of the property. And that she would be willing to live there into the future."

Tuttle says the hog farm complied with all state regulations. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency tested the air near the farm and found that it met state standards. Tuttle says the verdict will help farmers all across the state.

"I certainly think it's a lift, from a psychological standpoint. The issue becomes to what extent should the neighborhood have to deal with that odor. And I think the standard is different in a livestock community as opposed to a suburban community or a city," says Tuttle.

Farmers are also looking to the state legislature for help. The House has passed a measure that limits neighbor's ability to sue over odors. Farmers say the bill will help build the state's agricultural industry. They say investors will be more willing to put money into farming if they are protected against lawsuits. Opponents worry the bill will lead to more large, corporate farms. They say those types of farms are forcing small family operations out of business. Hog farmer Jerome Forst is just happy the case is behind him.

"It does bother you because the average person doesn't want to have a neighbor mad at you. Or put anybody in an uncomfortable position. And when you try to straighten it out or try to fix it and you can't get anything accomplished, it gets frustrating," says Forst.

Forst says he's drained physically and emotionally after the 9 day trial. He says the jury verdict in his favor means he can plan for the future.

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