Slurry spreading© Tim Scrivener

Revised rules on slurry storage capacities have left some dairy farmers thinking they could lose their Red Tractor certification. 

The food standards body reworded regulations around storage of organic matter in its latest October guidelines, stating that all slurry tanks and lagoons should have sufficient capacity to store at least four months’ slurry in non–NVZ areas (Five months in NVZ areas). 

However, clarification that the stated regulations only applied to stores erected after 1991 – a standard that has been in place since 2010 – was 14 pages further into the document.

 See also: Five ways to expand dairy and beef slurry storage

The updated wording led many producers to contact the Tenant Farmers Association (TFA) fearing that their certification was at risk.

Red Tractor has since reaffirmed that the capacity standards would only apply on stores built after 1991, which would require four months’ capacity as standard to get planning permission from the Environment Agency (EA) anyway.

However, the TFA say some farmers have been in touch, claiming that under the current guidelines they would still lose their Red Tractor assurance.

Half the regulation amount 

Robert Martin, who milks 120 cows in Carlisle, said his slurry store was built in 1996 but only has two months’ storage capacity.

“We got EA approval in 1996 because we spread slurry all year round and aren’t adjacent to a water course.

“We are waiting to hear from the EA to see if we can remain as a Red Tractor-certified milk producer.”

Mr Martin said that increasing his storage capacity was not something he had budgeted for, given the poor milk prices over the last 18 months.

“As we are tenant farmers it’s likely that improving our storage is something we would just have to work out for ourselves.

“Red Tractor have to make sure all guidelines are clearly out there, and this won’t just affect dairy farmers – it’s the same for pigs and beef,” added Mr Martin.

Badly explained

The TFA have been approached by other farmers whose slurry storage capacity also falls outside the Red Tractor guidelines. However, numbers were low because the problem had not yet been made public, said TFA chief executive, George Dunn.

“This was a nuanced message intended to explain the situation better, but Red Tractor have ended up explaining it badly.

“Given that this is tucked away in an appendix it has not been that obvious to most people so, although we have only had a handful of concerns raised about post-1991 slurry stores with less than four months’ capacity, there are probably other cases yet to be uncovered.

“For us, it would have been helpful to have seen a draft before the document went out.

“In future, we hope Red Tractor can stay in touch about when changes are made, to ensure farmers continue to adhere to their standards.”

No change in regulations

Philippa Wiltshire, industry and regulatory affairs manager at Red Tractor, said: “The Red Tractor standards relating to slurry storage mirror the legal requirements set out in the SSAFO regulations.

“They have been part of the Red Tractor scheme since 2014 and have not been changed during the latest standards review.

“We have asked the Environment Agency for clarification on its interpretation of the regulations but, providing farms are legally compliant, there should be no issue with our members’ Red Tractor assurance status.”