The latest review of dairy effluent management on South West farms by Western Dairy has shown considerable improvement in the areas of storing and reusing effluent since the last review in 2016. The review provided the opportunity to revisit benchmarking of effluent management across Healthy Estuaries WA catchments following upgrade work completed under the Dairycare project (2017–21).
Dairy effluent is “any solid and/or liquid matter from faeces, urine, wastewater from milking, cleaning and yard wash-down activities on dairy farms” (Western Dairy, 2021).
Effluent entering waterways contains high levels of nutrients, organic matter and pathogens which can cause problems for aquatic ecosystems by contributing to eutrophication, algal blooms and fish kill events.
When managed well, effluent can be a valuable source of fertiliser for pasture growth.
Through the current Dairy for Healthy Estuaries project, Western Dairy completes one-to-one reviews with farmers, provides technical support and assists farmers to identify priority areas to improve their effluent system and optimise nutrient reuse.
These identify areas where farmers may need technical support or further investment to meet the Code of Practice for Dairy Farm Effluent Management WA (the Code). The Code outlines the expectations and standards for dairy effluent management to minimise the impact on the environment.
The review of 31 South West farms found liquid effluent storage improved dramatically from 5 per cent of farms meeting the code to 86 per cent, following a system upgrade. Effluent application increased from 5 per cent to 76 per cent of farms meeting this standard.
Western Dairy Regional Extension Officer Dan Parnell said farmers need good technical advice to give them confidence to invest and they can access this support through the Dairy for Healthy Estuaries project.
“They are genuinely committed to minimising impacts on the environment for the long-term sustainability of their industry,” he said.
Bree Brown, Dairy Projects Coordinator at the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation said farmer interest in reusing the nutrients in effluent is increasing following a surge in fertiliser prices in the past two years.
“Farmers have also taken up the offer for sampling, analysis and information on reusing effluent that is offered alongside the system reviews.”
A revision of the Code in 2021 resulted in new standards being added for solids stockpile management and effluent storage. Solids stockpile management is an area for improvement as most of the 31 farms reviewed only partially meet this new standard.
“Through the Dairy for Healthy Estuaries project, farmers will have the opportunity to access co-funding for the installation of concrete solid stockpile pads to improve this area of effluent management and minimise impacts on ground and surface water,” said Bree.
Western Dairy are also working on a business case for effluent management to be released in early 2023. This will capture information on the benefits and return on investment for effective management of effluent on dairy farms. Its aim is to motivate farmers to continue working towards meeting standards in the Code and protecting the environment.
For more information, please contact Department of Water and Environmental Regulation Dairy Projects Coordinator Bree Brown on 9781 0106.
This project is a part of Healthy Estuaries WA – a State Government program that aims to improve the health of our South West estuaries.