Taking the long view

WHEN Ron Paynter throws a line into the Gippsland Lakes, he wants to know that he hasn’t done anything to harm the world-renowned aquatic ecosystem.

With decades of memories from holidays around the Lakes, Ron has an emotional connection that makes his geographic link all the more important.

Little Moe River and Bear Creek run through his family’s Ellinbank dairy farm, meandering through the hill country, into Lake Narracan and eventually hundreds of kilometres away to the mighty Lake Wellington, east of Sale.

Farming in the hill country of Ellinbank, just south of Warragul, Ron knows that every drop of liquid waste that enters the waterways on his property could potentially end up hundreds of kilometres away in the Gippsland Lakes.

“Even though we are on a dry-land farm, we understand that we are at the top of the catchment for the Gippsland Lakes,” he said

“It’s recognising that your farm has boundaries, but your activities don’t. What happens here on the farm does have an impact on the rest of the environment.”

Where that impact is most obvious is at the dairy shed, where 350 cows gather twice a day for milking

As they crowd towards  the shed  waiting for their turn in the dairy, the cows produce large amounts of manure and urine that, left untreated, would wash into the nearest waterway with the next shower of rain.

For Ron, the idea of effluent washing into waterways wasn’t just an environmental problem, it was a waste of a valuable resource that could be used elsewhere on the farm.

To solve the problem, a large area around the dairy was concreted, meaning the animal waste now ends up in a pit that is linked to the larger effluent pond nearby.

It can then be pumped back around the farm as liquid fertiliser to help produce nutritious pasture for his Holstein herd.

“The effluent itself is really quite valuable to us. The paddocks we are standing on here hold up much better into the summer than the paddocks that haven’t had effluent on it,” Ron said.

“As well as putting water on, we are giving a lovely dose of fertiliser with phosphorous, potassium  and nitrogen.”

“The plants really respond to it … you end up with lovely, dark green, vigorously growing strips  of grass.”

It’s a win-win for the environment and the farm business, but for Ron, the responsibility of being a good custodian of the land is always at the forefront of his mind.

“It’s just part of being a good corporate citizen and a good dairy farmer to make sure you manage your waste stream,” he said.

The latest round of CORE 4 is now open for dairy farmers in the Macalister Irrigation Area. For more information visit West Gippsland Catchment Management Authority’s website.


This round of CORE 4 is funded by the Victorian State Government for the health of the Gippsland Lakes and the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program.


Photograph courtesy of ABC Gippsland.