Australian dairy farmers are more likely to develop workable solutions to effluent disposal through collaboration with industry and government, according to a new report by 2016 Nuffield Scholar and Cohuna dairy farmer John Keely.
A fifth generation dairy farmer, Mr Keely runs a herd of more than 300 milking cows near Cohuna and developed an interest in sustainable farm management practices which has inspired his research.
‘‘I’ve observed that as dairy operations in Northern Victoria get bigger, they are becoming more intensive, and the need for environmentally sustainable effluent management systems is becoming more and more critical.
‘‘Average herd size has increased from 93 cows in 1985 to around 284 cows today. This has led to an intensification of the industry resulting in the widespread use of feed pads and loafing areas.
‘‘These practices see large amounts of manure build up quickly, and I know I’m not alone in the struggle to develop cost-effective and environmentally sustainable management methods in response.’’
Mr Keely’s Nuffield experience saw him visit intensive operations in the United Kingdom, Europe, the Netherlands, Denmark, United States, New Zealand and Canada, where he met with farmers and researchers and observed a range of innovative effluent use and disposal methods.
His research led him to conclude that the regulatory environment within which Australian dairy farmers operate is more relaxed than other countries, partly due to our abundance of space and lower soil fertility levels.
‘‘Australian farmers generally use the cheapest method to apply effluent and manure. This is understandable, but overseas examples demonstrate that the cheapest application method is not always the most cost-effective over the long term.’’