Environment Protection Authority Victoria is conducting a statewide inspection blitz on dairy farms.
The aim of the blitz, which will see about 100 dairy farms inspected this financial year, is to provide advice and ensure farmers are complying with their environmental obligations, particularly around waste management.
EPA Victoria Gippsland region manager Jess Bandiera said although a general level environmental duty was brought in with new legislation that took effect from last year, the EPA's expectations of dairy farmers and how they should be managing all manner of risks to the environment hadn't really changed.
"They (dairy farmers) should still be making sure that they understand what risks are on their farm and making sure that they've got appropriate controls in place," she said.
The blitz would see officers visit farms in regions with high numbers of dairy operations.
"We recognise that this is a significant industry," Ms Bandiera said.
"Things like inappropriate management of effluent can have quite a significant impact on some waterways.
"So we're spending a bit of time, not necessarily going out with the big stick, but spending time with farmers, providing them advice on how they can comply."
Ms Bandiera said it was also vital that all staff working on the farm understood the environmental risks and how they should be managed.
For example, if a staff member was doing the wash downs of the dairy into the effluent system, they should have appropriate training to understand how to maintain that system and ensure its compliance.
"It's really no different to your safety risks on farms," she said.
Anytime an EPA officer visited a farm they were required to do an entry report.
"That's just factual notes that are formalised in a simple report that is provided to the farmer when they're finished their inspection," Ms Bandiera said.
"On the report they have the opportunity to formalise any advice that they might have given out on site; so things like clear the pond that is looking a bit high ... or our advice is that you lower the levels of those ponds before the rainfall hits."
This report would be taken into account if the officer did a follow-up visit or if a problem occurred.
"It actually adds to the culpability for the farmers," she said.
Effluent management key area
Ms Bandiera said appropriate effluent management was the major area of concern on dairy farms.
The EPA obviously usually dealt with areas where there were problems.
"So what we are seeing is that quite often dairy farmers will have an effluent management system in place but quite often we will see things like they haven't taken the opportunity before rainfall events to clean out those systems and making sure that they're operating appropriately," she said.
The wet conditions of the past three years had seen an escalation in those problems.
"As far as compliance goes, I think generally everybody wants to do the right thing and there's some significant benefits to farm production in utilising things like effluent on farm as nutrients," Ms Bandiera said.
"I think generally the majority of dairy farmers out there want to do the right thing, and there just seems to always be just those few that either forget to maintain those systems or there's other other things going on that might be causing them to be non-compliant."
In the first instance, EPA officers would provide compliance advice on site, providing farmers with some practical ways that they could manage those risks or pointing them to EPA's guidance materials.
"If it's a more serious issue say, for example, there is a pond actually overflowing or close to overflowing or we're seeing the worst case scenario and we're seeing large volumes of effluent waste running off of farm into potentially a waterway, officers will obviously escalate their remedial approach," Ms Bandiera said.
"So they might issue a notice and they might even consider as enforcement action as well. It's definitely a scaled approach."
Other areas of concern included disposal of waste silage wrap, management and storage of chemicals and storage of silage pit tyres.
Ms Bandiera said it was illegal to burn any waste associated with an enterprise such as a farm.
"Often our officers might be driving through the countryside and see some black smoke on the horizon and nine times out of 10, they'll find that it's someone burning silage wrap," she said.
It was important that chemicals were handled and stored correctly to ensure they did not end up in waterways or drainage systems.
More information and guidances are available at website www.epa.vic.gov.au/for-business/find-your-industry/agriculture.
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