Storing silage: A guide on how to safely store it on a farm

storing silage

When it comes to how to safely store silage on a farm, this article by Charles Renwick from Lycetts explains who is responsible for which elements and what to expect when it comes to getting in touch with the Environment Agency

In order to keep livestock fed throughout the winter, silage is created and stored earlier in the year. But this commodity needs to be stored correctly, due to the potential impact it can have on the environment. If silage is allowed to leak or seep into the ground, it can quickly contaminate water sources, which further impacts marine life and wildlife. Effluent from silage can be potentially 200 times more toxic than sewage!

Charles Foster, from agriculture insurance brokers Lycetts, notes: “Silage effluent is extraordinarily toxic – so the damage it can cause to watercourse ecosystems 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.” This article serves as a guide for how to store silage safely, who is responsible for which elements and what to expect when it comes to the Environment Agency.

Tips on making and storing silage

There are rules in place for making and storing silage on a farm but be aware that these rules do not apply if you are storing silage temporarily in order to transport it. If you are looking to house silage at a farm on a permanent basis though, it is vital that you do not
either make or store any of it within ten metres of any coastal or inland water source. Baled silage also should not be unwrapped within this perimeter, with this type of silage it should be sealed in an impermeable membrane or bagged.

Will you be dealing with field silage? In this instance, it is a requirement that you refrain from storing it within 50 metres of a protected water supply source – i.e. a location where water is taken with the purpose of human food preparation, human consumption and/or
use within farm dairies. When silage is stored as field silage, there mustn’t be any construction works either and it is important that topsoil is not disturbed at any point in the process.

Silos that are used for making or storing silage need to be suitably resistant to damage or attack. Therefore, each one should have an impermeable base which extends beyond any of 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.

Silos also require collection channels to drain any spillage to 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 a 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.

The Environment Agency’s involvement

There will be a few instances where you are in touch with the Environment Agency. 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.

Details for your local Environment Agency are on the GOV.UK website, but be sure to have the following information ready when you get in touch:

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

The Environment Agency will also be in touch if you need to improve or move silage from an unsuitable storage. 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.

In the event that you disagree with the demand, you can appeal in the 28 day window after the notice was served. This appeal must contain a copy of the notice you have 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, with a copy sent to the Environment Agency office detailed on the notice as well.

There are three possible outcomes from an appeal:
• The notice will be altered or withdrawn.
• The notice will be upheld, though extra time will be provided for you to comply.
• The notice will be upheld, though you will be provided with no extra time to comply. Instead, the compliance period will often end on the day the decision is made.

It is critical for farmers to have silage stored correctly; a farmer was fined thousands of pounds after his silage seeped into a protected watercourse in 2017. As Mr Foster points out: “Farmers have many HSE and Environment Agency standards to comply with and
must keep ahead of the game to avoid these fines which remain uninsured. It will not only allow them to rest easy in the knowledge they are fully compliant with working practices and not polluting the environment, but they won’t suffer an unexpected financial hit if things go wrong.”

Charles Renwick
Divisional Director
Tel: +44 (0)191 232 1151


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