How to store, manage and dispose of agricultural materials in exceptional circumstances

This guide is for farmers and land managers. It will help you manage pollution risks that can arise on agricultural land or holdings from the storage, management and, or disposal of agricultural materials during exceptional circumstances

Managing agricultural materials in exceptional circumstances

Inappropriate spreading, management or disposal of agricultural materials can cause damage to the environment and soil, and water pollution. This risk is increased if incorrect spreading or management occurs during exceptional circumstances, for example during extreme weather.

You must contact Natural Resources Wales if:

  • your store of any agricultural material (e.g. slurry) is at risk of overflowing or leaking
  • you cannot avoid spreading on agricultural land and there is a risk of runoff, run-through to land drains or leaching
  • you are at risk of breaching the legal requirements of Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZs), storing silage and slurry (SSAFO) rules and, or the Environmental Permitting Regulations (EPR).

Find out more about Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZs) on the Welsh Government website.

Find out more about storing silage and slurry (SSAFO) rules on the Welsh Government website. 

Find out more about Environmental Permitting.

You must contact Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) if you are at risk of breaching the legal requirements of The Animal By-Products Regulations.

You can find guidance on bio-security and animal by-products on the Welsh Government website.

Definition of exceptional circumstances and when they apply

This guidance only applies during exceptional circumstances. NRW will notify when exceptional circumstances apply.

Exceptional circumstances are those that are not common, usual or cannot be planned for.

For example:

  • the long exceptionally dry summers of 1976 and 2018
  • major flooding
  • major disruptions to agriculture and food supply chains.

It does not apply to circumstances that can be planned for. For example, wetter than average winter rainfall, planned government policy changes.

Contingency plan

You must have a contingency plan in place that aims to prevent and mitigate causing pollution.  It should contain a dedicated section to help you prevent pollution during exceptional circumstances.

You must make sure that all your staff and contractors are aware of your contingency plan. It should include field inspections to consider the risk of pollutants getting into surface water or groundwater.

Work with neighbouring farms to create your contingency plan if possible.

During exceptional circumstances, use the following hierarchy of options for your contingency plan. 1 is the most favourable and 5 is the least favourable.

  1. Store the agricultural material at the place of production or at a place controlled by the producer.
  2. Store the agricultural material at the place of use.
  3. Consider any reuse potential for the material before it is discarded.
  4. Recover of the agricultural material at a suitably permitted biological treatment facility e.g. Anaerobic digester, composting etc;
  5. Dispose material at a suitably permitted waste treatment facility. Liquid waste cannot be landfilled.
  6. Store the agricultural material off site. Note you must contact NRW if you intend to do this.
  7. Dispose of the agricultural material on farm in accordance with this guidance.

Find additional guidance on 'Applying the Waste Hierarchy’, on the Welsh Government website.

Slurry

Reduce the amount of slurry you produce

In the first instance during exceptional circumstances you should reduce the amount of slurry (including lightly fouled water) you produce.

You should:

  • wash dairy parlours down with a low volume hose system (0.6 cubic metres per cow per month or 20 litres per cow per day)
  • remove excess dung with a brush or squeegee before hosing down to reduce the amount of wash water you need to use
  • keep animals on straw to produce solid manure rather than slurry
  • divert uncontaminated surface water away from dirty yards
  • keep or move livestock onto the smallest yard area necessary
  • install, maintain or repair gutters and down-pipes, especially on roofs that drain onto dirty yards
  • consider covering exposed fouled yard areas.

Temporary storage

Temporary storage for slurry should only be considered where existing storage is inadequate. You must normally comply with SSAFO rules to store slurry. If, during exceptional circumstances you have exhausted all other options for use and offsite disposal, Natural Resources Wales will not enforce the full SSAFO requirements if you want to store slurry for less than 12 months and providing you comply with the conditions below.

Find out more about storing silage and slurry (SSAFO) rules on the Welsh Government website.

You must agree the location and construction of temporary storage systems with us before you build them, and you must de-commission it as soon as it’s no longer needed.

Temporary storage could include:

  • reinstating disused stores
  • reclaiming tanks
  • new tanks
  • earth bank lagoons
  • lined lagoons
  • slurry bags.

To keep slurry in a temporary store you must:

  • check planning requirements with your local planning authority
  • contact Natural Resources Wales before construction
  • comply with health and safety requirements
  • agree each individual location with Natural Resources Wales
  • install tanks, liners and slurry bags to manufacturer’s instructions
  • make sure the base of earth bank lagoons is above the water table - there should be at least one metre of clay subsoil beneath the proposed base
  • use liners where there is doubt about soil permeability - lower grade liners should suffice for temporary storage but use high grade liners in areas of high groundwater vulnerability. Check areas of high groundwater vulnerability on our map of environmental data.
  • monitor it to make sure there are no leaks
  • locate it at least 30 metres from watercourses and land drains
  • locate it at least 50 metres from groundwater sources and not within a groundwater source protection zone 1
  • not within a designated site
  • decommission it as soon as it’s no longer needed, and within 12 months of first use.

If you’re using shared facilities, you must:

  • consider any bio-security risks
  • agree and document management arrangements
  • agree and document where responsibility lies.

For more information about storing slurry download 'Livestock manure and silage storage infrastructure for agriculture' from the CIRIA website.

How to spread slurry to land

You must only spread slurry to land in accordance with the Code of Good Agricultural Practice (COGAP). If you are within a Nitrate Vulnerable Zone (NVZ) you must also follow those rules.

Find out more about Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZs) on the Welsh Government website.

If during exceptional circumstances you are unable to comply with the requirements of COGAP and NVZ rules, contact Natural Resources Wales before you spread to land.

Milk

Reduce the amount of milk you produce

In the first instance during exceptional circumstances you should reduce the amount of milk you produce by drying off cows and reducing feed.

Temporary storage

If, during exceptional circumstances you have exhausted all other options for use and offsite disposal, you can store waste milk securely for recovery or disposal at the place of production for less than 12 months before it’s collected under Waste exemption NWFD 2.

Read more about waste exemption NWFD 2 on Gov.uk

You must contact us before construction and agree the location and construction of temporary storage systems with us before you build them and you must decommission it as soon as it’s no longer needed. Temporary storage could include:

  • reinstating disused stores
  • reclaiming tanks
  • new tanks
  • earth bank lagoons
  • lined lagoons
  • slurry bags.

Temporary storage must:

  • be in a secure location
  • be for less than 12 months
  • comply with health and safety requirements
  • be installed to manufacturer’s instructions e.g tanks and liners
  • make sure the base of earth bank lagoons is above the water table - there should be at least one metre of clay subsoil beneath the proposed base
  • use liners where there is doubt about soil permeability - lower grade liners should suffice for temporary storage but use high grade liners in areas of high groundwater vulnerability. Check areas of high groundwater vulnerability on our map of environmental data.
  • be monitored to make sure there are no leaks
  • be located at least 30 metres from watercourses and land drains
  • be located at least 50 metres from groundwater sources and not within a groundwater source protection zone 1
  • not within a designated site
  • be decommissioned as soon as it’s no longer needed.

If you’re using shared facilities, you must:

  • consider any bio-security risks
  • agree and document management arrangements
  • agree and document where responsibility lies.

How to spread milk to land

Milk should only be spread to land if all other options for storage and use have been exhausted and it is for agricultural benefit. You can spread milk to land for recovery if you have a U10 waste exemption and comply with its conditions.

Read more about agricultural waste exemptions, including U10.

Do not mix slurry with milk, it can create lethal or explosive gases such as methane, carbon dioxide, ammonia and hydrogen sulphide.

Spoiled Crops

Storage

If you have to store harvested crops which have spoiled on your farm for longer than usual, you must make sure storage:

  • is impermeable and weather tight
  • has sealed drainage that does not discharge to the environment
  • is at least 50 metres away from surface water or a conduit leading to surface water
  • is at least 50 metres away from springs, wells and boreholes
  • not be within a designated site.

Spreading

If your crop remains in the field and there is no alternative use for it, it should be ploughed back into the field. You must still adhere to Good Agricultural and Environmental Conditions (GAECs).

Read more about Good Agricultural and Environmental Conditions (GAECs) on the Welsh Government website

If your crop is being stored elsewhere on the farm you must have a U13 exemption to spread crops back onto land. This covers crops that have been harvested, stored on farm or in an on-farm pack house and allows the spreading of plant matter to provide benefits at the place of production subject to conditions.

Read more about agricultural waste exemptions

Disposal

If all other options for alternative uses of unused crops have been exhausted, you should apply the Welsh Government approved waste hierarchy.

Read more about the Welsh Government approved waste hierarchy

Animal and Meat Products

You must adhere to the Animal By-Products Regulations.

Read about the Animal By-Products Regulations on Gov.uk

Storage

If you have to store animal and meat products on your farm for longer than normal, you must make sure any storage:

  • is impermeable and weather tight
  • has sealed drainage that does not discharge to the environment
  • is at least 50 metres away from surface water or a conduit leading to surface water
  • is at least 50 metres away from springs, wells and boreholes
  • not within a designated site.

Disposal

All animal and meat products must be disposed of in line with the Welsh Government approved waste hierarchy and legal requirements. Disposal must be made at a facility that is permitted to take animal by-products. 

Read more about the Welsh Government approved waste hierarchy

Spreading

Only if APHA applies certain derogations from the Animal By-Products Regulations can some animal and meat products be spread to land. When these derogations are applied, spreading of any material to land is regulated by the Environmental Permitting Regulations (EPR) and you will need to apply for a permit from us.

Fallen stock and safe disposal of dead animals

You must adhere to the Animal By-Products Regulations and manage fallen stock in line with guidance on fallen stock and safe disposal of dead animals.

Read guidance on fallen stock and safe disposal of dead animals on Gov.uk

If livestock dies on your farm, it must be collected, identified and transported from your farm as soon as reasonably practical.

You must not:

  • burn or bury fallen stock on your farm
  • feed fallen stock to red kites or necrophagous birds (birds that feed on carcasses).

During exceptional circumstances it may take longer than normal for fallen stock to be collected. While waiting for your fallen stock to be collected, you must ensure that animals and birds cannot access the carcass.

Any temporary on-site storage should be within the following locations:

  • within the existing dedicated area for storage of fallen stock; or
  • within a sealed container which is leak proof and lidded; or
  • on an impermeable surface with sealed drainage to prevent discharges into the environment.

The burial or burning of fallen stock in the open is banned to prevent the risk of spreading disease from residues in the soil, groundwater or air pollution.

During exceptional circumstances the government may relax the laws preventing on-farm burial and incineration. When these derogations are applied, burial is regulated by the Environmental Permitting Regulations (EPR).

Read additional guidance on burial of animals during emergencies on Gov.uk.