Farming activities in the Coffs Harbour area includes cattle grazing, banana cultivation, intensive plant agriculture such as raspberries, blueberries and cucumbers and market gardens.
These industries face significant threats from weather, pests and local wildlife and as a result landholders have adopted a variety of techniques to counter these threats. The techniques often involve use of specialised machinery and devices that can lead to land use conflicts between residential properties and rural landholders particularly in relation to noise generated by tractors and their implements, frost fans, and gas guns.
The NSW Government Department of Primary Industries has a Right to Farm Policy which supports primary producers in their right to farm to the extent of what is lawful, and in compliance with relevant legislation. There are many areas in the Coffs Harbour region where smaller blocks are surrounded by or are very close to rural areas (RU2 Rural Landscape Zone). The natural environment and lifestyle of these areas is appealing, however, residents need to be aware that the surrounding rural land is permitted for agricultural purposes that may result in noise associated with farming practices.
The type and frequency of noise will vary based on the time of year and type of agricultural practices but generally only occur for short periods. Certain types of farming may produce more noise than others however they are permitted agricultural activities which do not require development consent.
Council recognises that farming activities have the potential to impact on neighbours, however many of the activities cannot be avoided. The following suggestions are offered for consideration by both landholders and residents.
Landholders may consider the following actions to reduce noise impacts to neighbouring properties:
Maintain good communication with neighbours. This is a key aspect of maintaining good relationships and minimising the chance of conflict. Neighbours will often be more tolerant of noises if they are aware of why it is necessary, and how long it is expected to continue.
Consider if a proposed activity is likely to generate noise impacts to neighbours (e.g. frost fans, gas guns, night spraying). If yes, discuss with the owners/occupiers of dwellings within 1km of the proposed activity. Provide them with information about the proposed activity, the likely noise levels, the operational settings such as when and how often you estimate the machinery/equipment will be used and other information that may be relevant.
When deciding on placement of equipment such as pump houses, frost fans or gas guns, consider the location of nearby dwellings, topography, the shielding effect of natural features and buildings and how the sound may travel on your property. Select a location which will reduce noise impacts to neighbours as much as possible while still being effective.
If there is lighting associated with the equipment ensure it is turned away from neighbouring properties.
Consider the installation of temporary barriers around the equipment to reduce noise impacts. e.g. hay bale barriers
Ensure frost fans only operate when the temperature is low enough to threaten the crop with frost and when the plants are at a frost-sensitive stage of their growth cycle.
When purchasing or upgrading a frost fan ensure that the supplier of the fan has adequate information on noise levels so you can accurately assess the likely risk the fan will pose to local sensitive noise receptors. Consider the purchase of a fan with built-in thermostat controls.
Ensure the use of gas guns is minimised wherever possible. For the guns to be most effective they should only be used when the birds are most actively feeding. This will normally be in the early morning and late afternoon depending on the species. Most scare guns can be fitted with a timer that enables them to be automatically turned on and off. Gas guns should not be used at night as birds won’t be feeding and night use is likely to pose an impact to neighbours.
Consider the frequency of the gas gun firing times. If the firing rate is set too high the birds will very quickly become accustomed to the noise and the impact to neighbours will be increased.
Consider the positioning of the device so that it is facing away from sensitive receptors.
If you are a resident affected by agricultural noise Council advises that you first speak with the landowner regarding your concerns and attempt to come to an agreement on how the noise impact may be minimised. You can also contact a Community Justice Centre to arrange mediation with your neighbour. These are government funded independent centres specialising in settling differences between neighbours without entering into complicated legal processes.
If mediation between residents does not alleviate the situation, you can contact Council by email, phone or in person to discuss further. Council assesses each complaint against the following criteria:
- Is there a public health risk; and
- Is the situation impacting on the broader public or can it be resolved privately.
Based on the above criteria, Council determines if the complaint requires further investigation or if the matter can be resolved independently of Council through the Community Justice Centre or private legal action.