FARMERS ARE worried they may be forced to stop using ring-feeders for winter feeding because of the wording of DEFRA‘s new cross-compliance handbook.

The document suggests that producers should not provide supplementary feeding for livestock in a way that “adversely affects the quality or diversity of natural and semi-natural vegetation through trampling or poaching.”

William Weightman of Haining Law Farm, Tyne and Wear said he had contacted the Rural Payments Agency at Newcastle and been told this did mean the use of ring-feeders would not be permitted.

“Do I now have to get a load of hardcore and put it in every field so the animals can feed on it,” he said.

“I think that will be more environmentally detrimental than letting some grass get poached.”

But a DEFRA spokesman told FARMERS WEEKLY that the department was not trying to outlaw the use of ring-feeders. “It is not about preventing ring-feeders,” he said.

Further guidance would be sent to producers towards the end of the month, he said.

This was likely to be based on existing Good Code of Agricultural Practice guidelines, which suggest that supplementary feeding areas should be well away from watercourses and, wherever practical, regularly moved to avoid poaching.

Andrew Clark, NFU environment team leader, said he did not think that DEFRA was trying to ban the use of ring-feeders but farmers had a valid concern.

“No one can really answer this question at the moment, which is why we are looking to the Rural Payments Agency to have a light-touch in enforcing all of this,” he said.

“DEFRA is not producing hard and fast rules because whether the practice is unsustainable depends on location and the consequences of any run-off.

“What DEFRA is trying to do is encourage farmers to think about the best options available to them,” added Mr Clarke.