EPA Waste Determination Discussion Paper

The Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF) welcomes the opportunity to submit in response to the EPA Waste determination discussion paper. 

Animal manure and organic compost are integral by-products and inputs for the Victorian agricultural industries. Their production and use varies across the different farming systems employed in Victoria, from producers, such as feedlots and intensive agricultural systems, to end users including broad acre cropping systems and market gardens. 

Animal manure and compost have been used in agriculture as fertilisers and soil improvers for centuries. The responsible use and management of animal manure and compost in the agricultural industries is supported by industry best practice, quality assurance and continued research and development. The benefits and value of animal manure and compost use in farming systems is well researched and documented. The application of animal manure and compost can repair damaged soils, increase soil carbon, reduce soil erosion and runoff, reduce nitrate leaching, complement the use of nitrogen fertilisers and assist plant growth through the contribution of carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and other beneficial nutrients to the soil. 

Farmers employ a range of management practices when using animal manure and organic compost on farm, including: nutrient budgeting, runoff prevention, application technique and timing, soil condition monitoring and record keeping. All of these management practices are sensitive to environmental conditions, rainfall, soil type and condition, manure type and nutrient content, the cropping or pasture program and any potential environmental risks or impacts. 

The VFF is concerned that the EPA Waste Determination Paper is unclear in its intent and has failed to adequately explain how a determination will regulate manures, animal wastewater, effluent and organic compost. 

The EPA recognised in the discussion paper that “To date no significant pollution incidents linked to use of manures have been reported in Victoria”. Quite reasonably, industry ask – “Why the increased regulatory burden when there has been no demonstrated increase in risk or occurrence of pollution incidents?” While the VFF acknowledges that the intention of the EPA is a regulatory approach that is not onerous, this has been poorly communicated. 

VFF believes that the EPA determination should recognise existing industry quality assurance schemes, licences and industry guidelines for the deeming of a lawful place and for other users apply risk-based specifications. These must recognise existing industry best practice with the aim of no practice change or additional record keeping being required on farms. 

The VFF believe our recommendations, developed in consultation with the VFF commodity groups, our members and other industry bodies including Dairy Australia and Australian Pork Limited, are a reasonable alternative that would allow EPA to adhere to the requirements of the new EPA Act and reduce the regulatory burden imposed on farmers. The VFF makes these recommendation in line with the requirements of the Victorian Government’s Requirements and processes for making subordinate legislation, including ensuring that a ‘significant burden’ is not placed on a particular industry and that the regulation is proportionate to the risk posed. 

The regulatory system must recognise the role of animal manure as a valuable input and the agricultural industry’s experience and record in managing the application of beneficial products within a sensitive environment. Without this recognition the regulatory system risks disincentivising best practice use of manure in cropping and grazing systems, potentially leading to poorer environmental outcomes. 

Our recommendations are in line with the 2019 VFF submission in response to the proposed regulations and environmental reference standards that said the regulations need to: 

“Acknowledge that soil, water and organic waste are key inputs for agriculture and that the regulations should be administered to acknowledge industry standards and processes which focus on maintaining or improving the health / condition of these resources and encourage their productive reuse.” 

A risk-based approach would support the Victorian Government’s 10-year circular economy policy. The use of animal manure in farming systems demonstrates how a circular economy works in the agricultural industry. It would be disappointing if the growth in the use of alternative fertilisers and beneficial products in agriculture was hampered by onerous regulation (both real and perceived). 

The VFF acknowledges that the Environment Protection Amendment Act 2018 adopted the same definition for “industrial waste” as the current Environmental Protection Act 1970. VFF believes the Victorian Government erred in its adoption of this definition while imposing greater regulatory hurdles for the use of animal manures and organic compost. VFF made our concerns clear throughout the development of the Act and the regulations. 

Amendment of the Environment Protection Amendment Act 2018 is a VFF priority. We request the Victorian Government and Parliament insert a classification for animal manure and organic compost that appropriately recognises its importance as an agricultural input and the extremely low risk posed by its storage, transport and use. Defining animal manure and organic compost as “industrial waste” has potential consequences in terms of community acceptance of any food or fibre grown with these natural fertilisers. Under the current definition, this food and fibre could be legitimately described as being grown using industrial waste. The harm to domestic and international markets from such statements is obvious.