Via Farmonline, 14-05-2012

THE Federal Government’s carbon tax has prompted dairy farmers to get sustainable and slash costs.

With the carbon tax posing major threats to the intensive Australian dairy industry, facing the prospect of higher power bills and lower milk prices, some dairy farmers have already made big moves to slash on-farm electricity costs.

They say switching to a more sustainable system will not only save money, but it’s better for their farm in the long term too.

Boorcan dairy farmers Darren and Camilla Moloney are slowly chipping away at a 10-year plan to transform their business into a self-sustainable operation.

“We don’t have a big cash flow, but we are trying to do things that will pay for themselves,” Mr Moloney said.

Firstly the couple installed a five kilowatt solar panel on a disused dairy.

It generates about 20kW per day, which in turn produces enough money to offset the electricity costs at their actual dairy.

“We get 68 cents before they drop the feed-in tariff,” he said.

Setting up the solar panel on their actual 20-aside Herringbone dairy down the road would not have been viable, because the Moloneys would have required power when the sun was still up.

At the moment the plan is working – and will be even more effective when electricity prices increase in the second half of the year.

“Everyone is forecasting what will happen when the tax comes in, but no one really knows,” Mrs Moloney said.

“I feel that it’s not necessarily a bad thing if it makes farmers realise their carbon footprint.”

An environmental adviser is helping them with the sustainability plan, but the next steps are not yet set in stone.

“We are looking at putting tubes on the roof of the dairy to heat the water up, because that is one of our bigger costs,” he said.

The relatively new concept is expected to shrink power costs even further.

In the future they aim to produce a surplus of energy to sell – an idea they hope might fuel a valuable side-line income.

“We are looking into renewable energy too, but it’s still very new,” Mr Moloney said.

They say an effluent digester is in the pipeline too, which will generate power from methane gases.

“As soon as the technology becomes available to turn methane into power, we are keen to use it. It makes sense to us,” Mrs Moloney said.

In the future, the family hope their efforts will mean that nothing is brought on-farm – even water.

At the moment they are 100 per cent reliant on town water, which costs up to $200 per megalitre.

“Our last water bill was ridiculous,” Mr Moloney said. “But we are in the process of building a big dam that should help the cause.”

They are learning how to make on-farm compost out of old silage, manure, and straw in a bid to phase out synthetic fertilisers such as urea.

“At some stage, the stuff they dig out of the ground will run out,” he said.

“It’s all about changing the whole farming system, not just one part of it,” he said.

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