Know your limits: Red diesel questions answered

A contractor travels to a farm to make silage, which he then hauls to the owner’s yard. Is this agricultural or is it classed as carrying goods for hire or reward?

If the contractor is cutting and collecting the silage as well as transporting it, it is agricultural activity, which qualifies for red diesel use.

Merely moving the silage after it has been cut by someone else constitutes haulage, for which white must be used.

Can I tow a 14t digger on a low loader behind my tractor, to do drainage jobs primarily, but also farm building clearance and occasional site work 25 miles away, running on red diesel? What if I also take a tipping trailer to take the spoil to an agricultural field?

If the tractor is undertaking drainage work on a farm to make the land more suitable for agriculture, then this may be classed as agricultural work and red may be used.

But if the vehicle is being used for drainage work anywhere else it is not regarded as agricultural activity and the vehicle must use white.

The issue of where the spoil is tipped is irrelevant; if the activity is not agricultural, then the disposal of the spoil is similarly non-agricultural.

What licensing requirements are there for carrying sewage sludge for the water board?

The carriage of human waste is not an agricultural activity, so white diesel is required.

An Operator’s Licence is also needed, the trailer should be tested and the vehicle excise licence should be for the haulage rate.

The driver should also have the correct class of driver’s licence – normally C+E.

What is the situation on hauling rubble with a tractor and trailer?

If a farmer is collecting rubble to fill holes on his agricultural land or premises this is permitted.

But the removal of waste from a building site for reward in either cash or kind would count as waste disposal and white must be used.

Can I collect feed and fertiliser from my local merchant using a tractor running on red?

Yes, if it is your feed and fertiliser for your own land, moved by your tractor.

Can I use a tractor using red diesel to move a digger or seed drill on a low loader to a new site?

If the tractor that tows the digger is to be used on site, then it may use red. If a different tractor will then be used on the new site, the tractor is being used purely for haulage, so this use would not be permitted.

Can I haul hay and straw to horse owners using red?

A farmer transporting his own produce with his tractor may use red.

A contractor who is employed to harvest and then move produce may use red, but a contractor employed merely to move someone else’s produce must use white.

The end use of the hay and straw is irrelevant.

But an Operator’s Licence would be required when delivering produce more than 15 miles from the farm.

Is there a limit on the distance I can travel with my own grain to a mill? Does the same rule apply when delivering your own straw to other farms or stables and your own bagged potatoes to shops?

In terms of red diesel use there is no mileage limit for agricultural tractors if they are being used for bona fide agricultural, horticultural or forestry activity.

But an operator’s license would be required when delivering produce more than 15 miles from the farm.

Can a contractor removing slurry/sludge from a cheese company take it to spread on nearby farms using red diesel?


This is classed as waste disposal/haulage, since the cheese company is paying the contractor for the waste to be removed from their premises – either in cash or in kind.

If the sole purpose of the operation is to enrich the land rather than to dispose of the waste it would be a permitted use. As a rule of thumb, a good guide is that a fertiliser is an input paid for by the farmer to put on his land for agricultural benefit. Where the waste ends up is irrelevant.

Can I deliver and collect livestock from market using a tractor running on red?

If you are delivering your own livestock you can run on red, although an Operator’s Licence is required when delivering produce more than 15 miles from the farm.

When collecting your own livestock there is no mileage limit.

If hauling for somebody else this would be classed as haulage and white must be used.

Can I deliver farmyard manure to private houses and gardens with a tractor running on red?

Provided a farmer delivers animal waste from his farm using his own tractor, this would be permissible, although, again, an Operator’s License is required when delivering produce more than 15 miles from the farm.

A third party doing this work would technically be carrying out waste disposal and haulage, so white must be used.

What is the maximum load I can carry with an agricultural vehicle and trailer? Are the rules the same if the vehicles are classed as non-agricultural?

The weight limits depend on the type of trailer and braking system.

The maximum combined load for fully equipped and loaded tractors and trailers is 24,390kg.

The ratio of the trailer:tractor weight must not exceed 4:1 unless the brakes fitted to the trailer are operated directly by the tractor’s braking system.

Any non-agricultural combination is classified as a goods vehicle and is subject to different rules.

For more information on trailers, see our FAQ on trailer brakes.

Does hedge cutting for agricultural, equine, domestic and local authority customers qualify for red diesel use?

Hedge and verge cutting qualifies for red diesel use, but to merely cart away the cuttings as a result of someone else doing the hedge trimming would be classed as haulage, for which white diesel must be used.

I have arranged to go to the local quarry to pick up some stone to use on my farm. This will be for a building which I have planning consent for. The quarry is about 5 miles away. Can this journey be made using a tractor and trailer running on red diesel? If I were to have to put in white diesel to make the journey, can I drain out the red that is already in the tractor?

If you are using the stone to repair a building that is used solely for agriculture or horticulture and will be carrying out the work yourself, this is permissible. Otherwise no.

If using white diesel all the red must be drained off, the system flushed through with white diesel and the filters replaced to remove all traces of red contamination.

Can I use one tractor to swap between agricultural and non-agricultural tasks, also swapping from red to white diesel?


If the vehicle is not used “solely” for agricultural, forestry or horticultural work, then it should be licensed in a more appropriate Vehicle Excise License category at the DVLA and run on white diesel all the time.

You cannot swap between red and white diesel according to the job.

That said, provided a vehicle has been drained down and is running on white diesel if stopped by Revenue and Customs while performing non-qualifying work, no action will be taken.

What are the rules for towing combine headers and other machinery around between a farm’s own fields or other farmers’ fields?

A farmer or contractor can use his own tractor to tow equipment used in agriculture, forestry or horticulture provided the tractor is actually used on the land as part of the work being done.

A tractor can also tow a combine header between fields where the combine is working, providing the tractor is used in the harvesting process at some point.

Can I take an agricultural sprayer, which is primarily used on the farm, to spray a sports field 40 miles away from the farm, running on red diesel? Can a second tractor take a bowser to fill the sprayer also on red?


Spraying sports fields constitutes horticultural activity.

A second tractor used as described could use red for the same reason.

How far could I travel with a digger or telehandler on the road using red diesel and what rules apply for construction use?

A telehandler is only permitted to use red if classified at the DVLA as a “works truck”.

A digging machine has no mileage restrictions on it and qualifies for red diesel use in its own right, though there are restrictions on what it may carry.

But an agricultural tractor misused for construction or other non-qualifying work invalidates any entitlement to use red diesel.

We are considering buying an HGV tractor unit and bulk trailer to haul grain from the combine to the dryer. It may also be used for other haulage, but only our own goods and from land occupied by us. Can this vehicle be taxed as a works truck or similar and can it burn red diesel?


The “works trucks” category refers to a specifically designed vehicle and is taxed accordingly.

These vehicles are only permitted to travel on public roads for a distance up to 1km of the premises where they are based.

A typical example would be a forklift truck or a dumper truck; an articulated heavy goods vehicle cannot be reclassified as a works truck.

Why can’t I use red diesel in my farm 4×4 if it is used only for agricultural purposes?

A 4×4 can be fuelled with red diesel provided it is not taxed for the road and either not used on the public road or only used within land of own occupation, provided it has the appropriate authority from the DVLA.

I sometimes drive a vintage tractor out on a road run, about 10 miles or so, with a group of like-minded friends. Can we run on red diesel?

No. This is not agricultural activity. White must be used.

Further information
Red Diesel – Abuse it and Lose it! FAQ prepared by NAAC that gives useful interpretation of regulations, as well as link to memorandum of agreement in respect of the use of agricultural vehicles on the road.
NFU Business Guide on red diesel Up-to-date and detailed guidance, includes Memorandum of Agreement and biofuel requirements (available to NFU members only).