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Published: 2007-11-28 00:00:00

Environment Waikato recently organised a number of effluent management field days for farmers in conjunction with Federated Farmers, Fonterra and Dexcel.

Many people commented they’d like to see further information in their local papers as a follow up – hence this column.
As Wendy Clark from Franklin Federated Farmers pointed out at a well-attended field day in Franklin, farmers in our region have the privilege of being able to spread dairy effluent on land without needing a resource consent. It’s a permitted activity, so there are no hassles with annual charges and consent renewal procedures.

But although no consent is required for land application, farmers must still comply with the following standard conditions, which are straightforward and haven’t changed in a decade:

  • do not exceed 25mm application depth per application
  • do not exceed an application rate of 150kg of nitrogen per hectare per year from effluent
  • do not allow any effluent to enter water (streams, drains, groundwater)
  • no ponding of effluent
  • have records that show that you are complying with these conditions.

Mark Leslie, General Manager of Sustainable Milk Growth says Fonterra’s view is that even one incident of significant non-compliance is not good enough.

“While we are seeing good progress in some areas, we need to continue to work closely with regional councils to achieve consistently better levels of environmental performance on farm.”

Here are five top tips for effluent management.

1. Soil type and moisture content

It’s important to consider the soil type and weather conditions you’re working with before you start applying any effluent. Even on free draining soils, which can soak up more effluent than clay type soils, you may not be able to irrigate safely during the wet months of the year.

2. Effluent storage capacity allows you to be in control

Having effluent storage at hand is essential so you can be in control of when you apply effluent. It means:

  • you can save on fertiliser costs by capitalising on the nutrient content of the effluent
  • stored effluent can be used strategically on thirsty summer paddocks
  • during busy times (like the calving season) you can forget about having to irrigate.

Storage pond size depends on the size of the effluent collecting area. For example if there is a feed pad or a stand-off pad used on farm, all the dirty water coming off these areas needs to be collected and directed into the effluent pond too. If storm water can’t be diverted off, the whole effluent system needs to be capable of handling larger volumes.

3. Different farms need different effluent systems

It’s important to choose an effluent irrigation system that suits the farm, its topography and soil types. For example, high application rate systems like traveling irrigators carry a high risk of over application on hump-and-hollowed paddocks and during spring, when soils are wet.

Low and medium application rate systems are available now, allowing application depths as low as 1-2mm if they are combined with a timer and a storage option. These systems give you the flexibility to irrigate to meet soil and pasture requirements, maximising returns from the investment.

4. Checking effluent nutrient content

Effluent is a valuable source of nutrients. The dollar value of effluent from 100 cows in an all grass system is about $1300-$1600. On farms with supplements being fed on a feedpad these figures can be double or even higher.

With fertiliser prices going up, it’s worthwhile checking the nutrient content of effluent. In the Waikato region you can register with EW for a discounted effluent nutrient test, which will cost only $75 for a sample. Give me a call on 0800 800 401 for more information.

Your nutrient budgets and soil tests also provide valuable information about the nutrient input from effluent. Talking to your fertiliser sales representative to develop a nutrient management plan for your effluent block can save you a lot of money.

5. Staff training is crucial

Make sure your staff is up to speed with day to day effluent management requirements. Have a contingency plan in place for break downs and let your staff know what to do and who to call on when there is equipment failure.

Assign responsibilities for set-up and regular maintenance of irrigation equipment by also explaining why this is important. This will help keep staff motivated to focus on this ‘dirty’ job and to achieve the best possible outcomes under all circumstances.

Not only is good management of effluent a requirement under Environment Waikato’s permitted activity rules, it is also good for the land and water and can save you money.

If you want to discuss your effluent management options, please call Gabriele Kaufler, Sustainable Agriculture Coordinator, on 0800 800 401.