Effluent Management

Effluent movement from farms can cause water pollution and poor water quality in local catchments. It can transfer animal disease, subsequently making streams unfit for drinking and also depleting the oxygen in them. This can result in a reduction in fish and plant populations. The nutrients associated with dairy effluent can also contribute to blue-green algal blooms.

Effluent contains valuable nutrients, organic matter and water, therefore opportunities exist to maximise production by using it on your property and minimising the waste created.

What you gain and what it costs

  • Correct application of effluent will boost pasture production.
  • Possible cost savings through reduced need for fertiliser.
  • Effluent can be an excellent soil conditioner (a source of organic carbon).
  • Containing nutrients and sediment on-farm reduces contamination of waterways.
  • Reduce spread of animal and human disease (by eliminating waterway contamination of the harmful bacteria in effluent).
  • Conserving water by recycling and/or reducing amount used (amount depends on size of alleys, yards, etc, and the quality of cleaning).
  • Well-designed, constructed and maintained tracks will assist in reducing lameness, promote good udder hygiene and improve stock traffic flow.
  • Capturing nutrients from laneways and redistributing them on-farm provides a source of nutrients.
  • Initially it will cost time and money to install a new system or improve your current one.
  • May not have the ability to achieve best practice due to property layout and terrain.
  • Young stock (up to a year old) cannot graze or have access to areas where effluent has been applied.
  • Milking cows cannot graze paddocks where effluent is applied for a recommended three weeks after application.
  • You may have to increase your existing effluent storage system or install an individual effluent system for the feedpad.
  • Recycling the water in the yard washdown from the effluent system concentrates the nutrients and salt.
  • If pond effluent is not tested before spreading, pastures may receive excess nutrients (e.g. N or K), salts and organic matter loads.

At work on the farm

Laurie and Gayle Clark, Katandra West, Victoria

Good planning of a new effluent system means more efficient use of nutrients and water.

That is what Laurie and Gayle Clark did when they upgraded their dairy from an eight-unit swingover herringbone to a 48-unit rotary dairy.

They wanted their effluent system to:

  • cope with the rotary operating at capacity;
  • maximise the use of the nutrients available in the effluent; and
  • minimise the amount of water used to clean the shed and yard.

The effluent system involves collecting the effluent from the yard, shandying the liquid effluent with irrigation water and applying it to pastures. The solids from the effluent are stored and applied to paddocks across the farm.

This approach also captures nutrients from the effluent system. The level of nutrients is estimated from the annual volume of effluent produced.

The biggest gain for the Clarks is the amount of potassium captured. It is estimated that two tonnes of potassium will be available, which is equivalent to four tonnes of potash.

Along with maximising the use of the nutrients, the system reduces the amount of water used for cleaning. Throughout the dairy the Clarks looked to save water and, as a result, have managed to halve the amount of water used compared with the predicted amount in the effluent plan.

“Due to recent seasonal conditions and water availability, our philosophy is to reuse the water and be as efficient and responsible with it aspossible, both in the shed and on-farm,” Gayle said.

Do any of these look familiar?


No system to collect effluent. This could result in effluent leaving the property in ground and surface waters.

Effluent being applied by a sprinkler system. Applying effluent correctly maximises nutrient use and minimises nutrient run-off from the farm.

A two-pond system allows flexibility to store over the wet months (reducing the chance of run-off). Effluent can be applied to pastures when they are actively growing (maximising nutrient benefit) and there’s the opportunity to recycle for yard washdown.

What you need to know (Victoria only)

  1. Environment Protection Act 1970 administered by the Environment Protection Authority (EPA). The Act requires that you
    should not pollute surface or groundwater. To assist in complying with the Act you need to meet the requirements of the State Environment Protection Policy (SEPP) Waters of Victoria revised 2003, which states:
    1. Wastes and wastewater from dairy sheds, feedpads and laneways must not be discharged to surface and groundwaters.
    2. Encourages the implementation of effective agricultural practices to minimise the run-off of pollutants such as nutrients, sediments, biocides, salt and pathogens.
    3. Farmers need to implement management practices that are consistent with approved protocols, guidelines and codes of practice - check with the EPA and the Victorian Department of Primary Industries (refer to Additional Information).
    Note: The EPA strongly recommends the implementation of an effluent management plan on your farm. An effluent management plan consists of all the relevant information relating to the design and management of an effluent system, including collection, solid separation, storage, application, reuse and management. The Victorian Department of Primary Industries or an appropriate consultant may provide practical one-on-one guidance to assist you with development and implementation of this plan.
  2. Reuse irrigation water - A licence is not required for water that is reused and collected in a dam that meets certain requirements. These dams are designed to stop nutrient-rich drainage leaving the farm and are commonly associated with irrigation use. Contact the relevant rural water authority for more information about the specifications for these dams.
  3. Check with your local council in regards to planning requirements. It may have additional requirements and you may need to apply for permits when installing or modifying your effluent system.
  4. A uthorisation of the construction of crossings and other works on waterways are through the Catchment Management Authorities (CMA ) and water authorities.
  5. Water Act - It is an offence to deliberately or negligently allow water to be wasted,
    misused or excessively consumed.
  6. Check with your local CMA for its regional catchment strategy and associated action plans. These documents outline your
    responsibilites with regard to environmental issues in your catchment.
  7. Your dairy company may have some
    requirements regarding effluent management. Please check your quality assurance requirements and with the dairy

Disclaimer: This information is only a guide to the law affecting farmers in the environmental field. The general area is quite complex and affected by numerous Acts and Regulations, some of which are very detailed. In addition, changes are made on a regular basis to the legislation. The precise effect in a given situation will require expert advice and this should be sought from an appropriate professional or the relevant government agency.

Additional information

These resources can help you develop your Action Plan (Organisations, their contact details and website information were correct at the time of publication. Information may change without notice).

Organisation Information Available Internet Contact
Victorian Department of Primary Industries Extension information – DPI extension officers may be able to help you with your general enquiries about issues relating to effluent and nutrient management.
DPI provides a variety of extension and education services and programs.

www.dpi.vic.gov.au > Information notes > Dairy > Effluent management
Once on the website you can do a SEARCH for the key words in hte topic you are interested in, e.g. 'effluent'.

Customer Service Ph: 136 186
Gippsland: (03) 5624 2222
South West: (03) 5561 9900
North: (03) 5852 0500
Additional sources you may find helpful Effluent and Manure Management Database for the Australian Dairy Industry www.dairyingfortomorrow.com  
Australian Dairy Farmers Limited Management of Dairy Effluent 2008 DairyGains Victorian Guidelines www.dairyingfortomorrow.com > On-farm
action > Tackling Specific Issues
Scott McDonald
DPI Echuca, (03) 5482 1922
Environment Protection Authority Victoria Information relating to the legislative requirements of managing dairy effluent. Staff will be able to highlight relevant acts and policies. Not available on the Internet  Traralgon: (03) 5176 1744
Geelong: (03) 5226 4825
Bendigo: (03) 5442 4393
Wangaratta: (03) 5721 7277
Your local council Permits/Approvals – Check with your local council to see if a permit is required for building effluent ponds, feedpads or new dairies. www.mav.asn.au
Click on ‘council contacts’.
As per White Pages
Milk factory Dairy farm licence conditions are overseen by Dairy Food Safety Victoria.
These conditions require a food safety audit at least once every two years. Some milk companies incorporate the food safety program into a broader quality assurance program that may have specific requirements for managing dairy effluent.
  Contact your local milk supply officer