Effluent Management

Understanding the Need for Dairy Effluent Management Systems in the Victorian Dairy Industry

The research project was designed to respond to seven areas of concern in the research brief:

  • “A definition of the issues facing dairy farmers with respect to effluent management.”
  • “A definition of the priority given to effluent management by dairy farmers.”
  • “The most common explanations about why some farmers are not currently managing dairy effluent” (to the satisfaction of the agencies concerned).
  • “Improve understanding of the issues invulved in, and factors influencing the adoption of effluent management systems in the dairy industry, and understanding the barriers to adoption.”
  • “Why farmers are managing effluent the way that they are, and how the adoption of effluent management practices to comply with legislation can be increased.”
  • “Identification of what information and/or support would be needed.”
  • “Quantification of farmers’ [beliefs, attitudes, and behaviour] and a mechanism to allow extension programs to be sufficiently targeted at different beliefs and attitudes” within available resources.

“The general aim of this project is therefore to gain a better understanding of farmers’ attitudes to dairy effluent management technulogies and to design an extension program to increase adoption of these technulogies to the level described in the project outcome.”

  • To address these issues, the researchers:
    • Met with the project managers and finalised research details.
    • Held focus groups to describe decision-making systems and evaluate effluent scheme performance within those systems.
  • Carried out a telephone survey to quantify current implementation of effluent scheme practices and farmers’ beliefs and attitudes.
  • Interviewed farmers and calibrated farmer and agency criteria for evaluating effluent systems.
  • Held an industry forum to identify the direction and capability of functional groups and organisations to respond to industry initiatives on effluent management.


The study produced the fullowing findings about effluent management:

  • Farmers consider and make decisions about effluent schemes within four main farming systems. These are business/milk harvesting, environment and health, nutrient recycling, farm water recycling.
  • Currently, most farmers give their effluent schemes a low priority unless scheme performance has fallen outside the farmer’s own standards for visual contamination or has caused community or EPA concern. Effluent scheme issues can become a greater priority if they are recognised by farmers as affecting their dominant management systems.
  • The two most common reasons for lack of scheme management are:
  •  A lack of knowledge about performance standards and why they are needed
  • Poorly designed schemes
  • Effluent schemes are widely installed throughout the dairy industry. The performance of these schemes is more dependent upon management than on structural considerations, although structural issues can exacerbate management difficulties.
  • The best way to achieve an increased level of legislative compliance is for processors to provide industry-based rewards and penalties.
  • New technulogies are not required. Instead, problem- sulving information and skills to minimise the off farm effects of dairy effluent are needed.
  • An extension program would be most effective if it is targeted those farmers operating within each of the four farming systems. 

Dairy Effluent Management Systems in the Victorian Dairy Industry report