SPECIAL EDITION: NZ EFFLUENT REPORT
Last week I spent 4 days in regional NZ and I didn’t see a sheep. Not one.
But perhaps even more surprising is that the NZ National Government, regional councils and district councils take livestock effluent control seriously – and they understand that it is a shared responsibility across the entire livestock supply chain.
In cooperation with industry, the NZ Government has made specific provision for effluent loss under road transport laws, developed an industry code of practice, published a national guide for effluent disposal facilities, agreed regional stock truck effluent strategies and dedicated funding for effluent control infrastructure construction and maintenance.
So how is it that they have it so right and we have got it so wrong?
To find out, last week ALRTA sent seven representatives to Waikato, NZ, to speak with key decision makers and to inspect the effluent management system first hand. Our representatives included:
- Mick Debenham – LRTAV
- Trevor Solly – LRTAV
- Robert Hodge – LRTAV
- Lynley Miners – LBRCA
- Raymond Sutton – LBRCA
- Mark Collins – LRTAQ
- Mathew Munro – ALRTA Secretariat
The ALRTA delegation was graciously hosted by Waikato Regional Council, based in Hamilton. We were received as honorary special guests and afforded every respect and courtesy. It was the full red carpet treatment.
Above: The ALRTA delegation with Isy Kennedy (2nd from left).
A ball of energy who goes by the name of Isy Kennedy (Waikato Stock Truck Effluent Programme) was instrumental in arranging and leading two days of visits to transport depots, farms, saleyards, meat processors, roadside facilities, effluent processing sites and industry and government decision makers. Our own ALRTA National Officer, Colleen Mays, liaised closely with Isy and our National Animal Welfare Committee to develop the schedule and to make sure that the trip went smoothly for our delegates.
Before I give you my ‘shiny-arse’ summary of the study trip, let’s first hear from Mick Debenham who has kindly provided the excellent report below.
TRANSPORT OPERATOR REPORT: MICK DEBENHAM
On Wednesday the 26th of April an ALRTA delegation flew to Auckland on the North Island of New Zealand for a planned study tour of livestock effluent dump points and treatment plants in the Waikato region that had been put together by Isy Kennedy from the Waikato Regional Council.
I coincidently bumped into Isy last year while in New Zealand on holiday when I stopped to look at a roadside effluent dump point. Isy is the Senior Transport Planner for the Waikato Regional Council and also part of the National Stock Effluent Working Group (NSEWG) and has been the driving force behind the Waikato Regional Council’s current and planned roadside effluent dump points.
After we all met up at the airport we travelled in our little van to Hamilton our base for the next few days.
Thursday started with breakfast at 7am and we then travelled to Pukekohe to meet Don Wilson who is chair of the National Livestock Transport Safety Group and partner in On Road Transport Ltd who run a fleet of stock trucks. We inspected his truck wash and treatment facility which uses a screen to separate the solids and a settlement pond for the liquid which was then irrigated onto pasture.
Above: On Road Transport’s wash, screen and settlement pond.
After he answered our many questions he then took us to a nearby dairy farm that uses a weeping wall to remove the solids from the dairy and feed pad effluent before the liquid ran into a lined dam before irrigation to pasture.
Above: The on farm weeping wall, it has two separate sections the left is still empty after both were recently cleaned out and the right is almost full again. The effluent runs through the pipe on top of the dividing wall and enters at the rear, the grill (weeping wall) is at the opposite end and the liquid runs out before running to the dam for irrigation onto pasture.
Don then very kindy shouted us all to a lovely lunch at Patumahoe before we travelled back to Hamilton where we met Isy at a local abattoir owned by family company Greenlea. Here we inspected the truck unloading area and wash/dump point. Greenlea use a sophisticated processing plant to remove all solids from all their waste before the liquid is sent to town sewerage.
Last stop for today was the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) in Hamilton where we met with Rob Bullick, Principal Investment Advisor, Planning and Investment where he outlined how much roadside effluent dumps cost and the funding arrangements between the NZTA and local council which took us through till 5.30pm.
Friday started at 7am again with breakfast after which we met Isy at the Waikato Regional Council office where we were given a traditional Maori blessing (Mihi) by members and staff of the Council who also sang to us as part of the Mihi, then we all introduced ourselves individually and council presented us with gift bags filled with little goodies including a Waikato “Truck Legends” cap and metal badge.
The seven of us with Isy, Cathy and Nigel from Council and Raj from NZTA headed to our first stop the Morrinsville Saleyard to inspect the truck wash and dump point, we were also lucky enough to be there on sale day so there was plenty to look at.
Above : Our group chat with a driver who has called into the Tapapa STE disposal site to empty his tanks with 48 large Friesian chopper cows on.
Next stop after morning tea at Tirau was the Councils first road side dump point at Tapapa where I met Isy last year. The reason Isy happened to be there last year was that this dump point was originally two dams to contain the effluent but due to seepage from the dam the Council was just starting to install a concrete tank to contain the effluent which is then carted away by a contractor who uses it for compost.
Next stop was the Mynoke vermiculture facility that mixes various solid wastes before it is spread onto the ground in windrows for the worms to work their magic and convert it to vermicaste which is then sold as a soil renovator that has been shown to improve the yield of maize crops by up to 20%.
Above: Te Kuiti saleyard and STE disposal site with 2 grates for trailers that have 2 tanks.
Then on to another dairy farm to inspect their irrigation system followed by lunch at Arapuni courtesy of Waikato Regional Council. After lunch we walked across the magnificent suspension bridge overlooking the Arapuni hydro power station on the Waikato River.
The newest of the Waikato regions dump points was our next stop at the TeKuiti Saleyards where there was also a cattle sale taking place. After a quick inspection (as we were behind schedule) we had to retrieve some of our party from the yards and say goodbye to Nigel Cathy and Raj before travelling with Isy to Otorohanga to visit the depot of Lime Haulage who run 30 odd stock trucks to inspect their truck wash, followed by a quick look at the local truck wash where the council intend to build a dump point.
We then headed back to Hamilton where we arrived at 7pm and presented Isy with a couple bottles of Aussie red to thank her for all the time and effort she had put into arranging our trip and coordinating those people who were kind enough to allow us to visit them and explain what they do.
What did we learn?
Maori culture protects the streams and as such there is a strong political, social and regulatory desire to ensure this happens and as such containment of stock effluent is already ingrained into society, dairy farms all appear to have systems to contain effluent and spread it onto pasture at suitable times of the year as both liquid and solids.
New Zealand livestock carriers have the same difficulty in getting stock prepared for transport as we do in Australia.
Stock Effluent in NZ is not considered part of the load when a vehicle has stock on board and as such carriers can’t be fined for a load restraint breech when loaded for an effluent spill, they can however be fined for a spill under environment protection legislation. However, it appears that this is rare as when a fine is challenged on the fact that no place to empty/dispose of the effluent was available the fine is withdrawn.
Stock effluent is however considered part of the load when a stock truck has no stock on-board.
The funding for installing and managing STE (Stock Truck Effluent) disposal sites is collected via a charge to all ratepayers as it is seen as something that everyone benefits from with rural land owners paying about double that of urban residents, about $4 per year with Isy suggesting that they would like to see that doubled.
While NZ are a lot further advanced than us with a network of effluent dumps they still have a long way to go but it has been great to hear their stories, what they have learnt and see their progress and it means we can now speed up our own work on establishing a network of strategically placed effluent dumps with what we have learnt from them while in New Zealand.
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR REPORT: MATHEW MUNRO
The Waikato region (south of Auckland on the North Island) is one of the premier dairy regions in the world. The combination of rich volcanic soils, reliable rainfall and proximity to major processors has pushed land values to $100k per hectare in prime areas. It is little wonder that sheep have been consigned to the back blocks.
The Waikato region was a great place to conduct our study tour because it is a ‘worst case scenario’ as far as livestock effluent production is concerned. The grass is always a lush green and the trucks and sale yards are full of dairy cattle.
Above: NZ painters carry 27 shades of green, 1 blue, 1 black and 1 white.
The Waikato Regional Council has the most advanced effluent strategy in NZ, with one ‘in transit’ roadside effluent disposal facility already operational, ten more on the drawing board, co-operative funding of several ‘end of trip’ effluent disposal facilities and (hold onto your hat) a broad-scale levy in place to fund the effluent strategy across ten constituent district councils.
Prior to landing in NZ, I was able to examine several published NZ effluent guides, codes and strategic plans. However, really is no substitute for speaking with all of the major players face-to-face and there was certainly a variety of opinions expressed concerning the overall success of the NZ strategy.
Here is a summary of some key learnings:
Attitude: There can be no doubt that the entire supply chain takes the effluent issue more seriously in NZ. Effluent is generally considered to be a road safety, environment and amenity issue. Some also consider it to be a human health hazard and detrimental to the road surface, however these views are not universal. Animal welfare and biosecurity appear to be secondary issues only. A glaring contrast is that action is being driven by government in NZ, whereas the transport sector is driving the issue in Australia.
Types of Facilities: Most disposal facilities capture effluent, separate solids, discharge liquid and periodically physically remove accumulated solids. There are three basic types of facility:
- Lowest Cost: Physical capture and piped to a containment tank. There is no onsite treatment and captured effluent is occasionally pumped out and taken away.
- Medium Cost: As above but with some level of on-site biological treatment. This works well on high volume farms (e.g. weeping wall with large capture dam and onsite irrigation).
- High Cost: Chemical and mechanical treatment in a fully enclosed controlled environment (e.g. shed with negative air pressure). This process can use sulfuric acid, polymer, caustic soda plus mechanical separation and compression techniques.
Disposal of Liquids: NZ authorities apply significant charges (based on volume and concentration) to accept discharged liquids as ‘trade waste’ into the sewage system and there are large penalties if contaminated liquids flow or leach into natural waterways – so there is a strong incentive to either evaporate, irrigate on site, or apply active treatments that reduce the effluent content of liquids as much as possible before discharge. At Greenlea, $1.2m was spent on a chemical processing plant to avoid an estimated $1m annual cost of trade waste disposal.
Disposal of Solids: Solids need to be periodically removed from the accumulation site. Slurries can be pumped into tanks while drier substances can be excavated. Off-site disposal can involve landfill, spreading, mixing with fertilizer, composting and vermiculture (worm farms).
Above: Finished product from the worm farm.
Rules on Emptying Trailer Tanks: Containment tanks are not mandatory. Even so, vehicles are prohibited from having a switch inside the cabin to operate containment tank valves. The idea is that drivers cannot empty tanks conveniently from a moving vehicle or at unmanaged sites. The driver is required to position the outflow over a grate and then exit the vehicle to check the alignment before discharge. In our observations however, most trailers have tanks and these can be operated from inside the vehicle.
Cost of Construction: This is highly dependent on a number of factors. The lowest cost facility we encountered was just $20k (extension on a pre-existing truckwash). At the other end of the scale, a fully enclosed chemical treatment plant will set you back around $1m. On the roadside, the biggest costs relate to the road infrastructure (turning lanes etc) and land purchase. Generally, a decent on-farm or road-side facility will cost $250k – $500k (plus road infrastructure and land purchase where necessary) with a further $30k in annual maintenance costs.
Above: Fully enclosed facility at Greenlea.
In-transit Facilities in NZ: The next 10 roadside facilities in Waikato will involve a dumping grate, piped to a tank which is emptied via a pump to tanker for offsite disposal as required. Initially, it was thought that containment dams would be used but the cost of lining large dams to prevent leaching in accordance with new rules has proven prohibitive. Lessons are constantly being learned concerning the finer details of the design. For example, existing grates need to be widened or side splash boards added to prevent effluent escape on site. Also, due regard needs to be paid for the likely direction being travelled by a laden vehicle to avoid turning across traffic. We saw some great innovations such as automatic flushing when vehicles exit the site.
Funding: The NZ Transport Authority (NZTA) has responsibility for funding 100% of road infrastructure and signage. NZTA will contribute 50% towards other construction costs and maintenance. Waikato Regional Council contributes the other 50% which is raised via a levy on all rate payers. Private facilities are privately funded. Waikato Regional Council is prepared to offer financial incentives to make private facilities publicly available.
Permits and Controls: The responsibility for planning, building, environmental and cultural controls for effluent facilities largely rests with the NZ regional councils. Just like in Australia, farmers and operators report that approvals are complex, costly, uncertain and different in each region.
Above: Looking forward to seeing this on the Australian roadside?
Curfews: While the NZ industry code of practice stipulates a target of 75% of livestock being curfewed prior to transport, ‘on the ground’ opinions vary wildly. Processors reckon it is around 90% while Drivers and operators will tell you it is actually below 10%.
Road Transport Laws: Transport operators generally cannot be infringed when effluent falls from a loaded vehicle. However, penalties do apply for inappropriate discharge from containment tanks or if effluent falls from an unladen vehicle. While NZ does have ‘chain of responsibility’ laws, these are not applied to persons preparing animals for transport – and hence there is no legal responsibility motivating a change of practice in this area. As a general rule, entities accepting the delivery of livestock should also accept the delivery of effluent – but this is not always the case in practice.
Enforcement: On road enforcement of load restraint is rare. However, Waikato Regional Council is VERY active in enforcing laws designed to prevent effluent from entering waterways.
Establishing New Facilities: It takes many years to establish a new road side facility in NZ. Despite the strong political will to deliver, it still takes significant time to gather data, consult with stakeholders, survey / map potential sites, negotiate with land owners, navigate planning/environment rules, obtain funding, establish maintenance agreements and carry out construction. Difficult, but not impossible!
Where to from Here?
ALRTA has taken a quantum leap in our understanding of how to establish and maintain effluent management facilities. We now have expert contacts, reference documents and practical knowledge acquired from seeing the NZ system in operation for ourselves.
In consultation with our state associations, we are refining our national effluent strategy and building a business case to establish Australia’s first ‘in transit’ effluent disposal facility. While we have learned a lot, there are of course several important differences between Australia and New Zealand in terms of distances travelled, feeding regimes and political structure (NZ has no states).
There will no doubt be many challenges ahead, but rest assured that ALRTA and our state associations are actively working towards vastly improved effluent management in Australia involving all levels of government and the entire supply chain.
Our National Council will meet to consider next steps on 24 May 2017.