NO farmer wants to pollute watercourses, but sometimes the simple things that need repaired ‘go on the long finger’ and this can lead to problems. Gutters are often one such item, and one item that is often damaged in winter storms.
Henry Shaw, an Agri-Environment Adviser at the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE), says there are straightforward tasks that can help keep essential farm infrastructure in good shape.
“Ensuring that your gutters and downpipes are not blocked and in good condition will help you to separate clean water from dirty water. Each inch (25mm) of rain which falls on a square metre of roof or yard equates to approximately 5.5 gallons (25L) of water.
“That can add up to a lot of water on the average farm. If this water runs into or over a dirty yard it may become classified as dirty water or slurry. Clean rainwater can go directly into a watercourse but dirty water or slurry must be stored in a tank.
“Many farm gutters are old, and it may be awkward but not too expensive to fix them. Remember, if you decide to carry out the repairs yourself that you must take great care to avoid injury, particularly at this difficult time,” Henry said.
It is also worth considering that water can run downhill for a considerable distance and go unnoticed, particularly if underground and out of sight.
This can pose a major problem if the water is contaminated with nutrients such as livestock manure or silage effluent. Often only secondary clues, such as bright green grass or nettle patches along ditches, indicate that nutrients are escaping. Nettles are a particularly good indicator as this plant thrives on high nutrient levels.
Henry continued: “Livestock manure and silage effluent may actually end up a long way from your farmyard and even your farm land.
“Often there is no obvious way that the nutrients from your farmyard got there. However, not all water runs in pipes. Water, clean or otherwise, is just as happy to follow hard-core on a lane, run under concrete, or travel through field drains to reach ditches and other watercourses.
“Inspect your watercourses for indicators of enrichment. Even if the water is clear and there is no fungus present the presence of nettles along the banks may indicate a potential problem.
“The corrosive power of silage effluent is sadly often all too evident. The stone base below concrete can act as a reservoir for silage effluent where it can sit until heavy rain pushes it out to escape into nearby waterways.
“Take the opportunity when the silo is empty to check that the floor and walls are in good condition and if not carry out the necessary repairs. Repairs are best done early before a major problem emerges because to use an old phrase, ‘a stitch in time saves nine’.
“Minor repairs and improvements can make a big difference, especially with our changeable weather patterns where we get freak storms with high winds and heavy rainfall. Be prepared for extreme events.”