U.S. hog producers should be glad Larry Jacobson did not pursue his intended electrical engineering degree when he was an undergraduate at the University of Minnesota in the early 1970s. Not that he couldn’t have made great contributions in that field, but his work as an agricultural engineer changed the way people think about odor and outdoor air quality.
Because of the hog industry expansion and consolidation of the 1980s, the Minnesota countryside was setting up as a battleground of sorts, as county and township boards were seeking expertise into the matter while they attempted to referee battles between hog producers and their neighbors. Jacobson and his team at the University of Minnesota’s Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering, set out to build a model to find out just how much odor was being emitted by livestock facilities.
The model Jacobson’s team created would become known as the OFFSET (Odor From Feedlot Setback Estimation Tool) model; it remains in use today, helping producers calm battles between themselves and the public.
Jacobson says the OFFSET model was widely accepted immediately, and his department remained neutral, “because we understood both sides of the issue. From the pork producer side, they were limited because it was hard to find building sites that were located away from residences where they weren’t affecting neighbors, and most of the pork producers want to be good neighbors. They wanted to have it better smelling themselves.”