Report Synopsis

Farm Effluent Management. How to utilise the nutrients from dairy herd manure to improve a biological farming system

John Keely

Legislators in many countries have recognised the importance of increasing community and industry expectations in order to protect the environment. Understanding the management of effluent and manure on farms is critical to the sustainable management of the rural environment and potentially improving the productivity and profitability of farms.

This Nuffield report considers the effluent management practices being employed in other countries and the regulations which frame these practices. The author visited the UK, Ireland, Denmark, the Netherlands, USA, New Zealand, Belgium, Germany and Canada. The author met with and interviewed farmers, researchers from industry and universities, as well, as observing a variety of farms on their innovative use of effluent and manure. Where practices have achieved success, and vary from those commonly occurring in Australia, this is mentioned in this report.

Australian on-farm environmental regulations appear to be less rigorous than some countries, which may be in part due to extensive land mass, size of farms and lower soil fertility. In comparison to most EU countries, Australia doesn’t have the same level of intensity. Farms are larger with readily available land on which to spread effluent and manage manure. Also, the environmental tensions caused by urban spread into former rural land are not as prevalent as some EU countries.

The European Union has implemented extensive regulations in their countries and their farmers have complied and sought local solutions with regards to their concerns. In Denmark and the Netherlands, and to a lesser extent the UK, farming intensive small holdings, science and technology has been used to develop unique solutions to managing effluent and manure. Industry and university research has contributed to this by assisting farmers with solutions to crop application of effluent and effective strategies to improve soil health.

In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has regulated a Nutrient Management Plan which requires farmers to meet a set of nine minimum standards. The compliance regulations vary between States. Generally, for larger Concentrated Animal Feed Operations (CAFO’s) these are mandatory and strictly regulated. For smaller holdings NMP’s are encouraged by State authorities but not necessarily mandated. Contrast this with the regulations of the EU where non-compliance by farmers can result in very large fines.

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