EMS no burden despite drought by Gary Alcorn

Quirindi grower Jim McDonald a year after gaining IS014001 certification: greater discipline helps manage the drought. When monitoring chemical applications, environmental management system has higher standards than NSW EPA.

TWELVE MONTHS after attaining ISO 14001 certification for their Quirindi (NSW) district property, Jim and Katrina McDonald of Red Braes are seeing the benefits of their environmental management system (EMS) program.

The McDonalds were among the first graingrowers in Australia to be certified with the international standard for environmental management. Despite receiving just 55 mm of rain since February on their property overlooking the Liverpool Plains, their cattle have done remarkably well while they achieve their target of maintaining 70 per cent ground cover for erosion control.

Has EMS been a restriction on property decision-making? "No, in a management time sense it's not as onerous as I first thought," Mr McDonald said. "What we have found is our management has been a lot more disciplined than before, so I know the EMS in that context is working.

"We are comfortable with that discipline, we have to work at it, but basically it's easier than I first anticipated."

They haven't noticed much change in lifestyle either because EMS is about awareness, mindset and monitoring. "There are requirements that we continually have to think about and we have introduced better practices." For example, "when monitoring chemical application, the environmental aspects have higher requirements than the NSW EPA legislation.

"We record and think about our strategies, but once you get used to the context of the extra needs, every time we do record it's just a couple more questions that we need to ask ourselves," he said.

Among the wider range of monitoring activities is recording native birds, animals and grasses to detect any changes such as new species.

Ground cover - the main challenge during drought

With drought conditions still widespread in September, was EMS an advantage or a hindrance?

"During the environmental review, we recognised drought is a major risk - it's either a major risk to the business or it's a major risk to issues like ground cover and how our farm responds after drought.

"Ground cover becomes a major component. We step through what best practice would be during drought and we have been able to maintain that drought policy and that procedure.

"So it's working, we're quite comfortable with where we are at the moment. We haven't violated any of the requirements we set ourselves on environmental issues and certainly haven't violated any animal welfare requirements."

Mr McDonald said conditions were getting "fairly extreme around the district" and all producers were in a belt-tightening mode. Handfeeding of Red Braes stock is part of the strategy to maintain a minimum 70 per cent ground cover across all paddocks.

"We're starting to keep stock out of paddocks that are getting close to that threshold and we use urea/molasses supplements and still have plenty of dry feed ahead of us, so we are comfortable for a while longer."

Will the McDonalds continue with their EMS and ISO14001 certification?

"Yes, with the certification there's nothing that's putting our farm at risk, it's about $2,500 a year cash in maintaining it but because of the management discipline and the internal benefits it's money well spent."

Contact: Mr Jim McDonald 0267461091 email: jimmcd@farmwide.com.au