In the winter, farmers use silage as animal feed, but did you know there are rules that must be followed to ensure that any of the fermented, high-moisture fodder is stored safely and correctly on farms.

Charles Foster, of leading agriculture insurance broker Lycetts, has urged that clamps are checked so that they are not leaching pollutants into the ground as the begin to put first cut silage in the clamp throughout the summer. This is because effluent from the silage clamps which gets into waterways can be highly destructive to wildlife and ecosystems, with it being up to 200 times more toxic than untreated sewage.

Mr. Foster stated: “Silage effluent is extraordinarily toxic — so the damage it can cause to watercourse eco-systems is profound. Once the effluent is in the ground and reaches a watercourse, it is very difficult to contain, and it can find its way into springs, wells and boreholes and public water supplies, which will require immediate action by an Environment Agency-approved contractor.

“Farmers must therefore make every effort to ensure their clamps are well maintained, and that includes all pipes and tanks as well.”

To help, this article will outline the rules which have to be considered by any farmers using silage, as well as acknowledge who is responsible and when the Environment Agency should be notified about certain procedures…

Making and storing silage

You must follow specific rules when you are making and storing silage on a farm. But, you should take note that these rules don’t apply when you are just storing silage temporarily in a container or trailer for transportation purposes.

However, if you are planning to house silage at your farm permanently, then be sure to store it over 10 metres away from any coastal or inland water source. Baled silage also shouldn’t be unwrapped within this perimeter, with this type of silage required to be sealed in an impermeable membrane or bagged too.

Also, important to note is that if you will be handling field silage, you must refrain from storing it within 50 metres of a protected water supply source. When silage is stored as field silage, there mustn’t be any construction works either and it’s important that topsoil is not disturbed at any point of the process.

Any silos that you do use in the making and storing process must also be resistant to attack, meaning each should have an impermeable base which extends beyond its walls. This base is also required to comply with British Standard 8007:1987 and British Standard 8110-1:1997 regulations if made from concrete, or British Standard 594/EN 13108-4:2006 if a hot-rolled asphalt design.

There must be impermeable draining collection channels found outside of the silo too that flow freely into an effluent tank. This ties into another important point, in that each silo must have an effluent collection system, though it is fine to store both silage effluent and slurry together should your tank have enough capacity and have been constructed in a manner to withstand both types of effluent. Just take note that gases, which are lethal to both humans and livestock, can result from mixing slurry, so silage effluent should never be placed into an under-floor slurry store.

Where the Environment Agency comes in

The Environment Agency is likely to be in regular contact with you when making or storing silage. In fact, the organisation must be notified at least 14 days ahead of you building a new storage facility for silage, slurry or agricultural fuel oil. The same timeframe must be followed should you make substantial changes to an existing store of silage, too.

The GOV.UK website holds details for your local Environment Agency office, but make sure you have the following to hand when you contact them:

  • Your name, current address, phone number and email address.
  • The type of storage facility that you’re intending to create or alter.
  • The specific location of the intended storage facility — provided via an eight-figure grid reference.

You may also be contacted by the Environment Agency if they need to serve a notice to request that you refrain from using an unsuitable silage, slurry or agricultural fuel oil storage facility until it’s been relocated, or its design improved. This will occur when the organisation is concerned that the storage facility is posing a significant risk of pollution, though the farmer receiving the notice will have at least 28 days to carry out the necessary work — more time may sometimes be granted too, such as if planning permission needs to be sought out or the weather is unsuitable for work to be carried out at the time a notice is delivered.

If you don’t agree with demands on such a notice, you can challenge it up to 28 days from the day after the notice was served. This appeal must contain a copy of the notice you’ve been sent, all related correspondence and a plan of the farm concerned in the notice — complete with the installation as well as all watercourses and drains. It must also be made in writing to the Secretary of State via the below address, with a copy sent to the Environment Agency office detailed on the notice too:

  • The Secretary of State for the Environment and Rural Affairs
  • The Planning Inspectorate
  • Room 4/19 Eagle Wing
  • Temple Quay House
  • 2 The Square
  • Temple Quay
  • Bristol BS1 6PN

After appealing, there are three decisions that could be made:

  1. The notice will be altered or withdrawn.
  2. The notice will be upheld, though extra time will be provided for you to comply.
  3. The notice will be upheld, though you’ll be provided with no extra time to comply. Instead, the compliance period will often end on the day the decision is made.

It’s important to follow these rules or you could face a hefty fine. In 2017, a farmer had to pay thousands of pounds in fines for polluting a protected watercourse by failing to store silage correctly.