Dairy producers need to be enviromentally accountable

24 Mar, 2004 10:00 PM

GREATER environmental accountability is inevitable in the WA dairy industry, according to a consultant from New Zealand, where farmers carry a nutrient management licence and are prosecuted for violating its conditions.

Speaking at Western Dairy's Dairy Information by Demonstration Day last week, Bruce Thorrold - of farmer-owned consultancy Dexcel - said the New Zealand situation was so severe that the country's Fish and Game Council even started a campaign called Dirty Dairy, to publicise the industry's negative impact on waterways.

"When I drive through the Peel-Harvey area and I see all these houses going up around the water, it's beginning to look a little like home," Mr Thorrold said.

He said there was no future for Australian and New Zealand dairy farming without fertiliser.

"Where this fertiliser comes from, whether from recycled wastes or underground deposits, is a secondary concern to the responsible use of nutrients," he said.

He said excessive nutrient use was not as good as money in the bank.

"When you bring in excessive nutrients, you get excessive losses, so even though you may be producing more milk, you're losing money," he said.

Evidence from WA's Vasse Milk Farmlets showed the need to measure inputs against outputs.

The high-input farmlet six grew the same level of grass as the low-input farmlet one and despite higher milk production, its tested phosphorus levels were 30pc higher.

Phosphorus losses in runoff were also higher.

Mr Thorrold said sometimes smart management would not be enough to avoid liability.

Some New Zealand farmers near high recreation areas faced reducing their nutrient losses by an unprecedented 20-30pc.

"But it's not about getting scared, it's about being prepared," he said.

"If we are going to protect our business future, we need to get involved in social and political debates and we need to find the technical solutions."

Geocatch chairman Barry Oates said advisers were now more likely to include environmental concerns with their discussions on farm practice.

"We don't want people coming in with a new environmental license to go with others farmers might already have," he said.

"We would prefer it to be self-regulated but the main thing is to get just one inspection on farm."


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