Council warns farmers over silage effluent in Limerick

Farmers and silage contractors have been urged to redouble their efforts to eliminate silage effluent spillages from crops amid a particularly bad year for pollution so far, according to Limerick City and County Council.

The call from the council comes with second crop harvesting very much in full swing and a bumper crop anticipated due to strong growth over recent weeks.

Agricultural scientist with Limerick City and County Council, Aidan Leonard, called for extra vigilance on the matter.

He said that silage effluent is over 200 times more polluting that raw sewage and one of the most potent of agricultural pollutants. Its impact on waters can be devastating, he stressed.

Continuing, he said: “Every year, despite widespread awareness across the industry of the threat from silage effluent leakages, there are incidents of leakage which can cause immense damage to rivers and streams.

“2019 has been a particularly bad year in this regard. During June 2019, eight cases of pollution resulting from silage effluent came to the attention of the Limerick City and Council.

“One of these cases resulted in a serious fish kill; [while] another caused serious pollution of a neighbouring well. Other cases gave rise to significant damage to the biology of the rivers and streams.”

Among the reasons identified for these spillages, Leonard said, was wet-silage/over-filling of silage pit, effluent conduits damaged by machinery, inappropriate storage of baled silage and silage bases with cracks in them due to joints not being properly sealed.

Leonard said that the public can help with identification of problems, not least by monitoring local streams and rivers.

The presence of grey slime, called ‘sewage fungus’, in a waterbody indicates contamination from a range of organic pollutants, including silage effluent, he said.

To minimise risk of contamination, the scientist advised: inspecting the pit before silage making to ensure there are no cracks or defects in the base, walls or channels; avoiding an overfill of pits; and usage of a 70mm land drainage pipe in channels, directed to the storage tank.

“The silage harvesting season is a particularly busy time of year for farmers. Nevertheless, it is essential to regularly check that there is no silage effluent escaping from the facilities.

All drains and watercourses downstream of the farmyard should also be checked regularly to ensure they are free from contamination.

Leonard added that if silage is suspected to be escaping, it is important to act immediately.