New ap­proach to ef­flu­ent sys­tems


dairy farm­ers will have new-look ef­flu­ent sys­tems — and a new at­ti­tude to­wards us­ing them — if a four-year project has its way. The project, Dairy-Care, aims to fund up­grades and change at­ti­tudes to­wards dairy ef­flu­ent and is start­ing to make its mark. Farm­ers can ac­cess fund­ing through the Roy­al­ties for Re­gions’ re­gional es­tu­ar­ies ini­tia­tive to co-in­vest in new or up­graded ef­flu­ent sys­tems. The project is a part­ner­ship be­tween Western Dairy, Depart­ment of Wa­ter and catch­ment groups. Daniel Parnell from Ag­sure Con­sult­ing is man­ag­ing the project for Western Dairy and says cur­rent ef­flu­ent sys­tems are “a mixed bag”. “We prob­a­bly haven’t had the in­vest­ment in dairy ef­flu­ent sys­tems that some places do and so some sys­tems are okay while some are prob­a­bly not ideal,” Mr Parnell said. “Hope­fully this project is an in­cen­tive to coin­vest and there will be a bet­ter re­sult at the end of it.” In its first year Dairy-Care has re­viewed about 25 farm ef­flu­ent sys­tems. Mr Parnell said that while farm­ers were well in­tended, there was room for im­prove­ment in de­vel­op­ing more com­plete ef­flu­ent sys­tems. “Gen­er­ally wa­ter use ef­fi­ciency is not too bad and there is rea­son­able solids sep­a­ra­tion with the use of traps,” he said. “How­ever, we’re prob­a­bly not so good at hav­ing ap­pro­pri­ate stor­age. A lot of ef­flu­ent ponds were put in with good in­ten­tions but may not be ap­pro­pri­ately lined or big enough. “Gen­er­ally herds have be­come big­ger which means the ponds might be too small.” An­other iden­ti­fied weak­ness is farm­ers’ ap­pli­ca­tion sys­tems. “There are a few good ones but we need to have com­plete sys­tems,” Mr Parnell said. “We have par­tial sys­tems with a trap and pond but not an ef­fec­tive ap­pli­ca­tion sys­tem for re­cy­cling those nu­tri­ents back on to the pad­docks.” Mr Parnell said part of the chal­lenge was con­vinc­ing farm­ers of the long-term value of re-us­ing their ef­flu­ent. “A lot of farm­ers don’t see it as an in­vest­ment; they see it as a black hole. It’s hard to mea­sure the ben­e­fits of the in­vest­ment and their time. Ide­ally we’d like ef­flu­ent tri­als to demon­strate a busi­ness case to farm­ers. “We’ve got to change the mind­set to show how they can grow grass from it; it’s there and you wouldn’t let fer­tiliser sit in the shed or pour it down the creek; you tap into it and use it. “It’s a lot of money to in­vest and farm­ers want to demon­strate a re­turn.” Mr Parnell said he was con­fi­dent WA farm­ers could meet in­dus­try guide­lines for ef­flu­ent use. About 10 farm­ers in the Geo-Catch area are in line for up­grades this year and oth­ers in the Hardy and Leschenault catch­ments will look to im­prove their on-farm nu­tri­ent man­age­ment over the com­ing years. Mr Parnell said some farm­ers were al­ready keen to go ahead with the work while oth­ers weren’t yet ready to make the co-in­vest­ment. “Hope­fully the fund­ing catches all those sit­ting on the fence,” he added. “As an in­dus­try we have to do the right thing.” State Gov­ern­ment fund­ing for the project is de­signed to im­prove wa­ter qual­ity. An in­de­pen­dent Project Ref­er­ence Group will as­sess ap­pli­ca­tions to de­ter­mine which farms re­ceive fund­ing sup­port for up­grades.

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