Tasmania’s environment watchdog is investigating Australia’s largest dairy farm over its failure to properly deal with its overflowing effluent systems.
- The Environment Protection Authority will investigate Van Dairy Group’s response to nine Environment Protection Notices
- The notices were issued by the Circular Head Council over issues with effluent ponds overflowing
- Greens Senator Peter Whish-Wilson says it “beggars belief” the EPA has taken so long to step in
Environment Protection Authority director Wes Ford said the investigation would focus on how the Van Dairy Group was responding to nine Environmental Protection Notices issued by the Circular Head Council.
The notices were issued after visits from Tasmanian Dairy Industry Authority (TDIA) officers to all Van Dairy Group farms in February found 83 per cent of the 23 farms audited failed to meet the Farm Dairy Effluent Management Code of Practice.
Mr Ford said it was “now appropriate” for the EPA to get involved, by jointly conducting the investigation with the council.
“The management of dairy effluent impacts beyond the boundary of a farm is normally a matter for a council, however, the EPA can involve itself where there are significant allegations of environmental harm,” Mr Ford said.
“I trust that Van Dairy Limited is committed to investing in the appropriate infrastructure and management systems to ensure the dairy effluent is managed in an appropriate and contemporary manner, both in the short and longer term, and I will be engaging with the company on this basis.”
Mr Ford said he will seek to meet with Van Dairy Group regarding the notices.
In a report sent to Van Dairy’s Chinese owner, Xianfeng Lu, TDIA manager Carolyn Harris said 43 per cent of the farms that failed the audit had issues that were regarded as “critical” or “major”.
The audit found recurring issues including increases to herd size without upgrading the effluent system, a failure to maintain and clean out systems and a lack of infrastructure such as irrigation equipment.
An operation licence of one Van Dairy farm was suspended by the TDIA due to overflowing from an effluent pond, but has since been reinstated.
Investigation long overdue
Greens Senator Peter Whish-Wilson welcomed the EPA undertaking an investigation but said it “beggars belief” that it had taken them so long to sit down with the company.
“I personally wrote to the head of the EPA six weeks ago and brought this to their attention,” he said.
“I sincerely hope and genuinely hope, as I’m sure the entire north west community does, that this is something serious and that they’re going to go through with this and make sure that this is rectified.”
Van Dairy Group has been contacted for comment.
In a statement last week, Mr Lu said the group was undertaking repairs to the effluent ponds and pumping systems identified in the Environment Protection Notices.
He said most of the urgent repair work was due to be completed by the end of next week, with “more intensive works that will provide a permanent solution” to be finished by the end of April.