Operating in a way that gives non-farm neighbors no reason to complain to your farmer-customers about your business is sound strategy, says custom operator Bill Arneson.

“One of the reasons dairy farmers hire us in the first place is they've got plenty to do already,” says Arne-son, of Arneson Custom Harvesting in Barneveld, WI.

“When they're busy out in the barn or in the office doing paperwork, the last thing they want or need is a phone call from an irate neighbor complaining about our crew. It doesn't exactly make them enthusiastic about working with us again.”

Arneson makes a point to continuously remind employees about the importance of respecting others. “It really comes down to a bunch of little things,” he says. “If we're working next to somebody's home, we want to make sure we don't touch any part of their yard with our equipment.

“Likewise, if we leave some mud or dirt on the road, we send somebody out with a blade to take care of it right away. It might mean pulling one of our people out of the rotation for 40 minutes, but it's something we have to do.”

Mary Kay Van Der Geest, who owns a 3,000-cow dairy near Merrill, WI, agrees that it's in the best interest of dairy producers and custom operators to work together to avoid conflicts with non-farmers.

Son Lee, the dairy's cropping manager, hires a custom operator to harvest 4,000 acres of corn silage annually. Just before harvest starts, Van Der Geest Dairy mails a newsletter to 100 or so of its landlords (within a 10-mile radius of the dairy).

Another 500 people living along the harvest routes also get the publication. In addition to highlighting new developments at the dairy, the newsletter lets people know that the harvest season is approaching.

“We ask people to let us know first if equipment or truck drivers aren't being courteous or aren't obeying speed limits,” she says. “That way, we can talk to the custom operator and have him talk to his people about it.”

Van Der Geest also encourages newsletter readers to notify the dairy of any upcoming special events at their homes (birthday parties, wedding receptions, etc.) during harvest season. “There are times when people might prefer not to have equipment operating near their homes and yards,” she says.

“If they give us some advance notice, we can talk it over with the custom operator and see if it's feasible to change the schedule. Some-times it works out. Sometimes it doesn't. But people genuinely seem to appreciate it when they feel like we're at least making an effort to work with them. It helps avoid some potential problems.”