Government releases winter grazing module

New rules around the controversial practice were recently deferred until next year.
New rules around the controversial practice were recently deferred until next year. Photo credit: Supplied

The Government has unveiled a new module laying out its expectations for farmers around the controversial practice of intensive winter grazing.

The practice, where livestock such as cattle and sheep progressively graze areas planted with fodder crop, has come under increased scrutiny in recent years, with critics saying it is concerning for environmental and animal welfare reasons.

New rules around winter grazing - part of freshwater regulations introduced last year - were supposed to come into effect in May, but the deadline was pushed back a year after farmers complained many were impractical and unworkable.

Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor said the new Intensive Winter Grazing Module was designed to help farmers become ready for 2022 when the rules come into effect.

"The module contains a template that farmers can use to develop a plan to manage their intensive winter grazing activities if they don’t already have one," O'Connor said.

"Farmers with existing plans need to update them to reflect the expectations set in this module."

Extra monitoring and a range of practical support would also be rolled out to "help farmers achieve immediate improvements", O'Connor said.

"The 2021/22 Intensive Winter Grazing Module highlights practical solutions farmers can take to mitigate the effects of grazing livestock on fodder crops during the winter months.

"They include leaving a buffer of at least five metres next to waterways, grazing crops top down where they grow on a slope, and using portable water troughs to limit livestock movements."

Environment Minister David Parker said regional councils and industry bodies would be expected to work with farmers to make improvements on the practice of winter grazing through the module. 

"It is important farmers ensure they are complying with their regional council’s current rules on intensive winter grazing," he said.

The module was criticised by the ACT Party, which said farmers were already taking measures to improve freshwater quality.

"It's in a farmer’s best interest to look after their land and their animals but Government can’t bring themselves to acknowledge this," said Mark Cameron, the party's primary industries spokesperson.

"Farming practices vary hugely from farm to farm with different topography and soil type. The rules set around back fencing, how crops should be sown and livestock kilograms per hectare show a lack of understanding."