Waikato Sharemilker of the Year, emphasis on environment and effluent treatment system.

July 2007
The condition of Waikato streams is a cause for concern. Around 80% of them don't meet bathing water standards because of bacteria and algal growth caused largely by cowshed effluent leakage into waterways, according to Alan Campbell, manager for environmental education, Environment Waikato.

EW has set standards for effluent treatment and discharge, but they are frustrated by the fact that 40% of farmers dont comply with them. Of those, a significant number are causing serious problems.

The intriguing thing about this is that the effluent going into streams is a significant source of soil nutrients for farmers, and yet they are treating it as a waste product, says Alan.

This is one environmental management issue where compliance is a win-win situation for farmers. If they use the nutrients in the effluent properly they will save themselves thousands of dollars and protect the streams at the same time.

At the moment some farmers don't seem to be getting the message, and effluent management just isn't on their agenda, says Alan. Once their attention is drawn to what they aren't doing and what they are losing most pick it up quickly.

Inadequate capacity of effluent treatment systems is a major factor. Where farm and herd size has increased significantly it is usually obvious to most farmers that they need to increase the effluent system capacity. However, it isnt always so obvious if the farmer puts on more cows and buys in feed, and uses a feedlot, standoff pad or herd home. This increases the amount and concentration of effluent, but it is often not taken into account by farmers and systems installed five to ten years previously to serve the same sized milking platform can no longer cope

Management of effluent systems also needs more attention. For example, moving an irrigator is an unpleasant job that often gets given to junior staff who may not have been trained or may not understand the significance of what they are doing, and so it gets left off their list or they find other things they would rather do.

How much effluent nitrogen to put on a given area is also done by guesswork or habit rather than carefully managed, but EW is offering farmers help to change this.

The limit for applying effluent N is 150kg/ha, and you cant tell how much is going on just by looking you need to test the effluent, so we have been offering discounted testing services to farmers, says Alan.

And thats where the losses are there's thousands of dollars worth of nutrient leaching into groundwater or escaping into streams, and meanwhile farmers are paying big money to apply the same nutrients when they don't need to.

EW has been working hard to get information out to farmers through posters, field days and workshops, and will run these on demand to give farmers a better understanding of technical issues. However, EW does not provide specific designs for effluent systems because that would conflict with its regulatory role.

It can be difficult for farmers to get independent effluent management advice. They need to be aware that if they go to a pump supplier he may know about pumps and pipes but not about running a farm effluent system, says Alan.

Private consultants are probably the best bet, and farmers should shop around for those who do understand effluent and nutrient management as an integrated package.

Craig & Hannah Fulton

The Fultons were named 2007 Waikato Sharemilker of the Year at the inaugural Dairy Industry Awards at a function in Hamilton on 3rd March.

The couple are 50:50 sharemilkers, milking 356 cows on a 108 effective hectare property owned by Peter and Joan de Renzy. They are on target for production of 115,000kg/ms for year ended May 31, 2007.

The couple share the business, with Craig taking care of day-to-day management and decision-making at all levels, while Hannah is responsible for administration including herd records and financials. Both are actively involved in dairy industry initiatives such as Dairy InSights Go Dairy campaign.

The couples long term goals include consolidation and debt reduction, off farm investments and increasing their herd.

In addition to the overall win, they also won:

Farm Business Performance Award

(Judges comments)

They clearly understood and demonstrated the key performance indicators for their business; they backed up their action with a thorough financial analysis. This was demonstrated across most areas of the business.

Excellent use of working actual to budget was clearly shown.

They were using benchmarking against other top operators in their area.

Leadership Award

Craig and Hannah demonstrated exceptional leadership skills within their farming enterprise.

They support their staff by sharing their knowledge and expertise, allowing staff to progress within the industry. It was clear to see that their staff member knew his rolls and responsibilities and felt part of a team.

The Fultons are dedicated dairy industry roll models. Hannah is a member of the Dairy 3 steering committee, and involves herself with the Quality Farm Employees of New Zealand" in which she monitors and reports while Craig is a member of the dairy insight "Go Dairy Campaign" in which he mentors future farm employees and helps them develop farming skills which introduces them to the dairy industry.

Hannah has involved herself in the local community by becoming an active member in the Hinuera Playcentre.

Farm Environment Award

Our thinking was that they ticked most of the boxes. Obviously there are some areas they have no control over. They show a strong willingness to work in sympathy with the owners wishes. The owner is particularly fastidious regarding the planting and maintenance of trees on the property. Craig and Hannah seem to happily embrace her wishes for her farm. They have gone to a lot of trouble clearing an area of scrub and are involved in planting new trees in that area. This I would have thought is well beyond their contractual requirements. Probably the thing that made them stand out the most was their attention to detail during the winter, in terms of avoiding pasture damage (potential soil erosion). They could actually be an example to others in this area. They were aware of good practice in all areas of farm environment management; such as extra insulation around water heaters, nutrient management, containing silage leachate, disposal of rubbish, recycling, fencing of waterways etc.

Craig Fulton on the effluent system

The effluent treatment system is a Low Application Rate and Low Labour (LARALL) installed last November. The system we had was getting old and antiquated and we realised that it wasn't up to scratch and so basically we were future proofing the farm. It has made us compliant with environment Waikato rules and has given us a big cost saving on fertiliser, says Craig.

The system is failsafe, a great advantage because under current laws farm staff are liable for any penalties that are imposed if they put on too much effluent. The people who work for us know that there's no way that they can be fined for anything going wrong.

Effluent is pumped out of an aerobic pond below the shed by a 30 hp pump to a loop line which is basically a lateral irrigation system. Four ports on the lateral line allow the connection of 70m of gun hose that is shifted manually (usually with a farm bike)

It is run on a timer system so we can set it for one or two hours and we know that it is putting on 3.6mm per hour. With four or five sprinklers per paddock and so we irrigate 1.2 hectares per hour.

It is awesome, it is such a breeze. We can pump out the equivalent of nine milkings per hour so for every nine milkings we turn on the irrigator on for an hour.

The pond gives about three weeks storage capacity. An aquaflex has been installed to measure the soil temperature and moisture level so that, particularly in the winter, they can calculate how much effluent they can put on without saturating the soil


Other environmentally friendly measures include riparian planting and fencing, and planting of an area of poorer quality land at the back of the farm in redwoods, rather than pines, because they will grow again.

Regular regrassing of paddocks is necessary to control grass grub, back beetle and clover root weevil problems. They spray out the paddock so that there is nothing left for bugs to eat, sow an annual grass, then in November sow turnips, and in autumn the area goes back into permanent pasture.

So for a full-year it gets a break from anything that will host bugs. This year we used a no tillage system as well which I believe was of huge benefit, says Craig.

The main reasons we won the Award were that our performance was consistently high across-the-board. We took out four Merit Awards but there's still room for improvement. The area where we can improve most on this farm now is being more savvy with production from pasture.