Comment: The first step in minimising farm waste is to develop a regional strategy, writes Federated Farmers Policy Advisor, Dr Lisa Brewer.

Waste management on farm is challenging, with the disposal of inorganic waste the main frustration.

Research suggests there is no easy fix, but the first step is to develop a regional strategy for rural waste.

There is no kerbside rubbish or recycling collection in many rural areas. Disposal of rural waste at transfer stations is often impractical.

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Refuse stations can be a long way away. There are few if any convenient collection points, problems with limited opening times and acceptance of only a narrow range of recyclable goods.

Read more from Federated Farmers here.

The volume and type of rural waste differs from other households. Research by the Waikato Regional Council shows that on average farmers dispose of around 37 tonnes of waste each year.

This includes a lot of material that in practice is often reused, such as broken concrete, posts, wire and pipes. If this had to be taken off farm, it would stretch the capacity of landfills - and it is generally unaffordable anyway.

Federated Farmers has analysed the costs of waste disposal in the Far North if farmers couldn't dispose of waste on farm; they were $41-$66.50 per cubic metre, roughly $4295 to $6967 annually, on top of transport costs and the farmer's rates contribution to waste management. It's a similar story elsewhere in the country.

These costs incentivise farmers to avoid the creation of waste, as well as repairing, recycling and reusing as much as possible.

It makes economic and environmental sense. Storage, burial or burning of waste on their property is less favoured, but a necessary last resort in the absence of other practical options. Farms are a working environment and need to be kept clean and tidy, for health and safety reasons if nothing else.

Old batten fences stored on a farm. The wire can be stripped and recycled. Treated battens are re-used where possible or otherwise stockpiled. Photo / Supplied
Old batten fences stored on a farm. The wire can be stripped and recycled. Treated battens are re-used where possible or otherwise stockpiled. Photo / Supplied

Much do-it-yourself recycling happens on farm. The traditional re-use of old tyres to weigh down silage pit covers is one example. This helps reduce other waste, by supporting the use of silage pits, which use far less plastic wrap than the alternative bale-age.

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There are two main recycling programmes in rural New Zealand, AgRecovery and Plasback. Plasback recycles bale wrap and horticultural netting. Farmers can recycle empty plastic containers through AgRecovery, providing they are triple-rinsed and the product comes from a participating brand.

While farmers are grateful for their services, these recycling programmes are not perfect.

Plasback's effectiveness is undermined by free riding of crop-packaging suppliers who are not partners in the scheme.

Likewise, not all manufacturers of agrichemical containers pay into the AgRecovery programme.

Farmers report annoying or impractical requirements for participation and problems with collection times. And they wonder what to do with goods not accepted by scheme operators.

Overseas, implementing rural waste management programmes has proved difficult, with the sometimes marginal profitability of the recycling sector made worse by the physical distances and low populations typical of rural areas.

Poor profitability can affect the effectiveness of rural waste programmes, which in turn affects uptake of recycling schemes by farmers.

Rural people still need convenient, cost-effective and environmentally-friendly disposal options.

Barriers to responsible waste disposal must be removed, which requires education strategies, industry collaboration, incentives, and improvements in service and infrastructure.

At the national level, recycling programmes could be encouraged if the Government declared priority product status for things like bale wrap, under the Waste Minimisation Act.

This would result in a levy being applied to all bale wrap sold, to better fund a product stewardship scheme like Plasback.

At the regional level, the first step in minimising farm waste is to develop a regional strategy.

This approach is consistent with research findings by Environment Canterbury, Waikato and Bay of Plenty Regional Councils.

A strategy would require local information on farm waste streams and disposal challenges.

It would also need to involve local farmers, suppliers of agricultural products and services, industry groups and others, to work out exactly what the problem is with farm waste and what the options are.