Managing dairy shed effluent
There are approximately 4,500 dairy farms located within Victoria with an estimated 1.1 million cows producing an average of 6,212 litres of milk annually per cow. (Dairy Australia 2012). Significant dairying activities operate throughout the Goulburn Broken, West Gippsland, North Central, North East, Corangamite and Glenelg Hopkins catchments.
Information collated by Government and industry sources estimate that more than 50% of dairy farmers still need to make improvements on either effluent system infrastructure or its management.
In 2003 the Environment Protection Authority introduced a targeted effluent auditing program primarily in the southern catchments. Since this date over 2000 dairy farms have been audited for effluent management with those non-compliant being issued either a minor works pollution abatement notice or a risk letter indicating a need for the farm to make improvements.
Those improvements tended to relate more specifically to the overall management and application of dairy effluent more so than inadequate effluent system design.
Over this period the Department of Environment and Primary Industries has assisted farmers with technical expertise by developing Effluent Management Plans tailored to suit the farms individual needs.
Commencing in July 2009 the Department of Environment and Primary Industries will engage the private sector in the southwest and northern regions of Victoria to undertake all the engineering and design aspects associated with constructing a dairy effluent system. DEDJTR regional offices will be able to provide details of appropriately trained services providers.
Importance of effluent management
In the past, dairy effluent was viewed as a useless by-product of the milking process. Management techniques were centered on disposal on sacrifice paddocks or treating it in a two pond system to reduce its strength.
With continuing research and a far better understanding of effluent management the industry focus has shifted away from a waste mentality to a resource utilisation approach.
Today there is a far greater awareness of the importance of effluent management from both an environmental protection perspective and the industry's marketability.
The dairy industry must continue to strive for a "clean and green" image by adopting current best management practices and adapting to change.
Responsibilities of farmers
Dairy farmers have a legal responsibility to contain all dairy effluent within their farm boundaries and ensure that the storage of effluent and land applications are carried out in a manner that precludes the pollution of both ground and surface waters. (State Environment Protection Policy – Waters of Victoria 2003)
Guidelines for effluent management
National Technical Database
This database is a technical 'gold standard' resource on effluent engineering and management containing scientifically validated information relevant to all dairying areas of Australia. The database outlines principles for effective effluent system design and management.
The Effluent and Manure Management Database for the Australian Dairy Industry can be viewed and downloaded from the following website: www.dairyingfortomorrow.com
Victorian Guidelines – Management of Dairy Effluent
The establishment of Management of dairy effluent – DairyGains Victorian Guidelines in 2008 has formed a bridging document linking the technical and scientific principles found in the national database to the Farm Effluent Management Plan.
These guidelines are non-prescriptive and outcome based to enable farmers to make informed and practical decisions for their farm.
These guidelines are available by contacting DEDJTR Echuca or from the Dairying for Tomorrow website.
Effluent Management Plans
A farm tailored document outlining technical design options and management strategies to enable dairy farmers to effectively implement and management an effluent system.
Effluent Management Plans address a number of key elements while taking into account the unique characteristics of each farm, to provide opportunities to enhance farm productivity whilst protecting sensitive areas such as waterways and neighboring residences.
Appropriate farm investigations may be required before developing the plan to ensure the effluent system options being considered suit the farm variables and management.
Plans can be developed by contacting the DEDJTR offices listed below or by contacting Mr Scott McDonald at DEDJTR Echuca to obtain a listed of qualified service agents.
Effluent system choice
Experience has shown that a simple system where the farmer has been responsible for overseeing the design works best. The cost of these systems is not great in comparison with other costs on the farm. The cost of the earthwork is generally less than that of the pumps, pipes and sumps.
The success of any system is dependent on the level of planning and the actual ongoing management of the system once it is completed. Good effluent management is a component of milking management and provides many benefits.
The choice of effluent systems are much more evolved now-a-days with a greater emphasis on tailoring a system to suit the farm and its management, rather than simply implementing a generic pond design commonly used in the past.
Effluent systems whether they are some type of storage system or direct application approach need to focus on nutrient recovery and strategic distributions of those nutrients around the farm to suit pasture and crop needs.
Emerging technologies for effluent
Effluent management is entering a new era with more research and feasibility studies now underway.
- Methane recovery from anaerobic ponds and energy opportunities for farms
- Pro-biotic treatments and low energy aeration trials to reduce pond crusting and odour emissions
- First pond sludge and forage application trials
- Nutrient budgeting and mapping programs
- Nutrient tracking through pond systems
- Aqua-culture and wastewater trials
These new emerging technologies will enable farmers to value-add and derive more benefits from the effluent system infrastructure they establish on farm.
Intensification of the industry
The continual trend towards larger herds and more intensive dairy production is well known. Even though cow flow through new sheds is much quicker than in the past, the total amount of effluent generated at the dairy is increasing. Firstly the larger yards and milk harvesting facilities require large volumes of water for cleaning. Secondly, the amount of effluent produced by these larger herds at the dairy and other feeding facilities each day is greater.
The end result of these changes means that very large volumes of effluent must be appropriately controlled and managed accordingly.
With seasonal variations in climate and water availability an emerging trend has seen the development of more dairying feedpads, barns and feedlots.
This intensification of the industry has led to a greater emphasis to manage effluent across the whole farm, rather than past focuses to simply address effluent generated at the dairy shed.
These types of enterprises particularly need to develop Nutrient Management Plans to account for nutrient inputs and accumulation of nutrients around the farm. The plans can assist in identifying key management strategies to ensure maximum utilisation and benefit from nutrients.
For more information refer to Guidelines for Victorian Dairy Feedpads and Freestalls.
Further advice can be obtained from your nearest DEDJTR or EPA office.
Ellinbank: 03 5624 2222
Echuca: 03 5482 1922
Environment Protection Authority
Traralgon: 03 5176 1744
Wangaratta: 03 5721 7277
Bendigo: 03 5442 4393
Dandenong: 03 9794 0677
Geelong: 03 5226 4825
This Agnote was Developed by Andrew Crocos and David Hopkins. April 1999.
It was reviewed by: Scott McDonald. February 2008.
Scott McDonald, Farm Services Victoria. February 2009.