A restructured management approach that has put more onus on staff is paying dividends for farm managers Isaac and Michelle Johnstone.
Tom was involved in Young Farmers at the time and won an exchange to the United Kingdom where he researched effluent systems.
He came up with a tanker system to avoid directly pumping effluent and quickly moved to share his success with others.
Tom and his wife Louise started Muckrunner, based in Mt Gambier, in 1996 and has since gone on to install more than 100 tanker systems around Australia.
“We came up with the name Muck Runner because that’s what we do,” he said.
Twenty years later he remains convinced that tankers are the best way of handling effluent.
Long before Muckrunner’s conception, Tom and his father realised the benefits of effluent and were trying to apply it on their farm with a modified fuel tanker, by direct pumping into the tanker and gravity emptying out.
This was very slow.
Then the EPA said all dairy farmers had to have a compliant effluent system or face fines, so the EPA designed a weeping wall and underground mainline.
Tom says it was expensive to build and highly unreliable.
“We found it was prone to blockages and we were always doing unscheduled reactive maintenance, and the most valuable dirt on the farm closest to the dairy was getting nutrient overload,” he said.
“We were losing ground. What should have been the most valuable part of the farm became a nutrient dumping ground and we couldn’t use it for calving cows or sick cows.”
The study tour to the UK changed all that.
“What appealed to me about the tankers was being able to use our effluent as a fertiliser tool so we could target areas on the farm that we were robbing nutrients from by cutting hay.
Tom said he liked the reliability of tankers.
“As soon as you start pumping effluent in any other system they’re always trying to get around blockages.
“The difference with a tanker is that it’s always pumping the air out of the tanker to fill it, and into the tanker to empty it using atmospheric pressure. You only ever pump air, therefore there are no blockages.
“The pump itself never comes in contact with the effluent. It’s a very simple system and very reliable.”
The first tanker form 1996 is still in service with a contractor.
“The current tanker we use on our own farm can fill 20,000L in three minutes, and empty in three minutes, compared to 45 minutes to fill 1,500L and in half an hour to empty with our original homemade system,” he said.
“The good thing about tankers is that farmers already own the products. What the tankers are doing is turning your waste product into a really valuable nutrient resource for your paddocks.
“You still have to replace the nutrients going off the farm but it’s giving you a second crack at the other nutrients that the cows have eaten. With the make-up of the effluent there’s a real X-factor that just works.”
The tankers came about through the farm’s own necessity but they started importing some machines for friends and the company grew from there.
They sell direct from a manufacturer in France straight to farmers, mostly in dairy.
A natural progression from the tankers was the addition of solid spreaders, the Muckmaster, made by the same company Pichon, which has just built a new 2.5ha factory in France.
The hot-dipped galvanised spreaders are for spreading high volume solid products, such as feed pad waste, pig and chook manure, compost and lime.
The Muckmaster features a multi-purpose beater frame comprising of a guillotine door, vertical rotors with large spinning discs and vertically hinged rear doors.
The guillotine door separates the material from the rotors so they can be started without load.
For spreading fine product and light application rates, the guillotine door might be opened as little as 300mm with the rear doors closed directing all product onto the large spinning discs with cupped veins.
This provides an accurate, wide spread of light product, such as compost.
For heavier application rates of unprocessed or raw product, such as feedpad or ecoshelter waste, the guillotine door and the rear doors will be fully open, to take advantage of the full length vertical beaters.
Muckrunner has also sourced compost turners, shredders and trommel screens made by Menart and established relationships with two Spanish companies; Tatoma, which makes vertical, horizontal, self-propelled and stationary feed mixers, and Cleris which makes stainless steel belt driven fertiliser spreaders, either tractor mounted or trailing.