Waterways could become polluted if farmers let silage storage standards slip

An agricultural expert is warning that highly-toxic run-off from farms could leak into and pollute waterways this summer if farmers aren’t vigilant.  

Farmers are being urged by Rupert Wailes-Fairbairn, of leading farm insurance broker Lycetts, to check their clamps ahead of the first cut of the season, which was delayed this year by the cold, dry Spring.

If the effluent from the silage clamps gets into the waterways, it can have a devastating impact on fish, wildlife and ecosystems as it could be up to 200 times more toxic than untreated sewage.  

Rupert fears that too many farmers haven’t checked their silage clamps are airtight and leak-free because they aren’t fully aware of the dangers of poor silage storage.

“Silage effluent is extraordinarily toxic – so the damage it can cause to watercourse eco-systems is profound,” said Mr Wailes-Fairbairn.

“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.”

According to the Environment Agency, there has been a steady rise in the number of water pollution incidents in recent years, from fewer than 6,500 in 2015 to almost 7,600 in 2019. Most of these are caused by water/sewage companies and farmers.

If farmers are found to be negligent in their storage of silage and other polluting materials, such as agricultural fertiliser and slurry, they face hefty fines.  

Rupert Wailes-Fairbairn

Rupert Wailes-Fairbairn

Mr Wailes Fairbairn emphasised that whilst insurance cover is available for the cleanup, it is not available for the substantial fines that could result from action taken by the Environment Agency as a result of any incident. 

“Farmers have many HSE and Environment Agency standards to comply with and must keep ahead of the game to avoid these fines, which remain un-insured,” he added. 

“Now is the time to do robust checks on the clamp, before the first cut of the season.  Measures should include checking that the floor is sound, that cracks are properly repaired and that wall coatings and overlapping protective films are intact.  

“A deep clean will allow farmers to inspect the clamp for damage, as leaks will be more easily identifiable but be careful not to damage protective lining, asphalt or concrete surfaces.   

“Collection channels should be regularly cleaned out and drains checked to ensure they are watertight. Before filling the clamp, flush the drains with water to ensure they are free from leaks or blockages.  

“Remember after filling the clamp to regularly monitor effluent levels and routinely check nearby watercourses for signs of pollution. 

“This proactive approach will not only allow farmers to rest easy in the knowledge they are fully compliant with working practices and not polluting the environment, but that they won’t suffer an unexpected financial hit if things go wrong.”

For more information about Lycetts and farm insurance, visit lycetts.co.uk/insurance-services/rural/farm/

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About The Author

John Swire - Deputy editor of Agronomist and Arable Farmer as well as responsibility for the Agronomist and Arable Farmer and Farm Business websites. After 17 years milking cows on the family farm John started writing about agriculture in 1998 and has since written for a variety of publications and has developed a wide circle of contacts within the industry. When not working John is a season ticket holder at Stoke City and also of late has become a fitness freak, listing cycling, swimming and walking as his exercises of choice.