Livestock transport has been a part of Australian farming since 1788 and it’s a dirty job, but someone’s got to do it. Livestock must be moved throughout their lifecycle for breeding, fattening, sale and slaughter. While moving herds through country towns with drovers is largely a thing of the past, more animals than ever before are travelling around Australia on the back of a truck.
The Australian Livestock and Rural Transporters Association points out that there is one thing that hasn’t changed and never will, food and water goes in one end and effluent comes out the other. This happens whether the animal is standing in a paddock, being walked through town or being carried on wheels.
Livestock can lose up to 5 per cent of their weight as effluent during transit. And because livestock trailers must be designed to provide ventilation, it is simply not possible to contain 100 per cent of the effluent that is produced. Modern trailers do however include internal drainage systems which may include an effluent capture tank.
So, you’ve hit the road with a full B-double load of cattle. You are heading out of a regional feedlot towards a processor in the big smoke 400km away. Just like people on a ride at the fairground, those tummies are not taking it well and within the first 100km you’ve got yourself a full effluent tank, with plenty more still to come.
Up ahead, there is a steep hill where uncontained effluent may escape onto the roadway. You also need to take two 90 degree turns through a major regional centre before you arrive at your final destination. The copper there is pretty tough and you’ve already worn a couple of $350 blisters for breaching load restraint laws in the last six months. Every time that happens you’ve lost your wages for the trip.
In Australia, livestock processing facilities are not required to provide disposal areas for captured effluent and primary producers will not accept it onto their property due to biosecurity concerns. Nervously, you decide to pull into an unofficial rest area outside of town to check your load and empty your tank. Today you were lucky. Last month, a mate of yours was busted by the EPA for illegal dumping and fined $3,000.
Every year there are more feedlots opening in the area, more livestock trucks on the road and more residential and business development along this important stock route. It’s an unsustainable situation that is not going to magically resolve itself.
Good preparation of the livestock before they are loaded onto the truck can help reduce the problem. But you don’t have control over that, and many livestock producers do not support the application of pre-transit feed and water restrictions due to concerns about negative impacts on weight and meat quality.
In New Zealand, national and regional governments are jointly funding, building and operating a network of purpose-built livestock effluent disposal facilities on public roads. Road transport laws have also been changed so you cannot be booked for effluent loss while you are loaded.
This common-sense approach is exactly what is needed for the Australian livestock supply chain to co-exist and grow alongside expanding urban populations where livestock sale and processing facilities (and the hundreds of thousands of jobs they support) are typically concentrated.
So why is it so hard to fix in Australia?
Well, unlike NZ we have a third layer of government, the states. The states own most of the important livestock roads and make the laws applicable to heavy vehicles, environment, animal welfare and domestic biosecurity. But they are not at the coalface like regional councils who depend on livestock industries and manage local effluent complaints. States are also apparently not attuned to the bigger picture ‘national interest’ either.
The states exist in a ‘no man’s land’ regulatory zone, not willing to accept responsibility or fund solutions. They just do not understand that simply fining drivers will never ever make the problem go away.
To their credit, the Australian Government has committed $400,000 to establish a pilot roadside effluent disposal facility, provided $50,000 to develop an effluent code of practice and, via the NTC, proposed to change the Heavy Vehicle National Law to encourage improved livestock preparation. Several regional councils have identified preferred locations for disposal facilities to be established and written to their state government demanding action on the issue.
ALRTA is continuing to work with all levels of government to proactively find solutions. We have travelled to NZ to inspect their effluent management system. We have funded the construction of free disposal facility in Horsham Victoria. We have worked with the supply chain to develop a code of practice. We are seeking regulatory solutions via the HVNL review. And we are continuing to invite state governments to the table, because, whether they recognise it or not, they are a necessary part of a long-term holistic solution.