Guest post today By Justin Huntsdale ABC Illawarra
It’s not cheap, but you won’t be ‘wasting’ your time – a Jamberoo farming conference has been told using the nutrients from livestock dung could help lower your fertiliser bill and help the environment.
Justin Huntsdale ABC Illawarra gets the lowdown on Dung from Steve Weidemann
Where we see livestock dung, agricultural scientist Stephen Wiedemann sees a great source of nutrients for your crop or a way to power your home.
Animal dung is rich in nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium – all fertilisers a farm spends significant money on – and much of the time it ends up biodegrading in the paddock or in a sewerage system.
“We like to see waste as a liquid fertiliser,” Stephen said.
“In a dairy or any livestock farm the animals only use a small proportion of the energy they consume, so you can improve sustainability if you can then cycle those nutrients around the farm.”
The Toowoomba-based scientist was speaking yesterday at a conference on ‘Clearing the Carbon Confusion’ held at the Lemon Grove farm near Jamberoo on the NSW South Coast.
The day also involved talks from Dr Neil Moss and Associate Professor Richard Eckard who were trying to help local farmers manage their environmental responsibility while still making money.
And while he’s a bit sheepish about being known as the resident livestock ‘poo expert’, Stephen Wiedemann is serious about making a farm more efficient, starting from the backside.
Putting manure on your domestic garden is something we’ve been doing for decades, but applying that principle to a broad acre crop is a different (and significantly more expensive) story.
“It’s a little bit difficult and expensive but it’s easier if you’ve got a larger farm,” he said.
“Infrastructure is a concern because you’re looking at dams, ponds and other treatment facilities and also irrigators so there is a high capital set-up, but once it’s established, it’s not too hard to manage.”
Balancing a farmer’s books and social conscience is not a new problem, but it’s something that is easier with the advice of experts like Stephen.
He describes his specialty as making the point of connection between the environment and farming.
And as farms become bigger as the demand for primary produce increases, the environmental strain grows too.
“Across the industry there’s a trend to expanding farm sizes, which means more cows on less area and one downside to that is you’ve got an issue with how to manage their waste.”
Stephen says, just like we’d use cow manure to fertilise our garden, livestock effluent can be used to replenish paddocks that are depleted from grazing or foraging.
In Germany, effluent management systems that recycle waste are commonplace, and sometimes used to trap methane which then powers households.
He says these additional benefits are some of the carrots that will sell the message to sceptical farmers.
“It’s a challenge for the industry because it’s capital intensive and you’re looking at longer payoffs, especially when farming’s recently been full of tight margins.
“I know a lot of farmers would like to push it off to the corner, but you have to look at other benefits beyond the cash benefits.
“There’s a positive kickback in terms of lower fertiliser usage, but the overall payback may be more in the realm of six years, and that doesn’t look attractive to a farmer.”