Responsible use of farm chemicals
Victoria has a valuable reputation as a reliable supplier of clean agricultural products, in both international and domestic markets. In order to maintain this reputation, it is essential that industry use agricultural and veterinary chemicals in a responsible manner.
Improper use of chemicals may result in accidental poisoning, pollution, chemical residues, damage to native flora, fauna or beneficial insects, and possibly chemical resistance in the pest or disease. Industry should also be aware of community concerns regarding chemical use including health, environment, culture and marketing.
It is desirable that users of agricultural chemicals complete a recognised chemical application training course that meets industry standards (e.g. Farm Chemical Users Course).
Under the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals (Control of Use) Act 1992, it is a requirement that all users of 'restricted use' chemicals (i.e. agricultural chemical products that are Schedule 7 Poisons (Dangerous Poisons), or contain atrazine, metham sodium or ester formulations of MCPA, 2,4-D, 2,4-DB or triclopyr) hold a valid Agricultural Chemical Users Permit (ACUP) or work under the direct supervision of an ACUP holder.
When applying for an ACUP, it is a prerequisite that the applicant has completed an approved training course.
The department's licensed spray contractors are also required to complete an approved training course before applying for a licence.
Identify the pest
Firstly, you need to identify the pest, weed or disease that is actually causing the problem. It's not worth applying chemicals to treat something you don't actually have, as this just wastes time and money.
Unnecessary spraying can also create other problems, such as chemical resistance and damage to beneficial species.
Once the pest has been identified, determine if the pest is present at a level that is likely to cause economic damage. Remember that chemicals (herbicides, fungicides and insecticides) are only one form of pest control - alternatives should also be considered and used in conjunction with chemicals including:
- Mechanical (e.g. ploughing, pruning, crutching)
- Cultural (e.g. hygiene strategies, controlled environments, crop/pasture/animal rotations, breeding)
- Biological (e.g. predators, companion planting).
Knowing the life cycle of the pest is an advantage that can help you identify the best time to implement the pest control method in order to achieve optimal results.
Selecting a chemical
The approved uses for a registered chemical product are listed on the product label and can vary for different States.
In Victoria, it is not illegal to use some chemicals off-label. Off-label use refers to situations when a chemical is used in a manner that is not specified on the chemical's product label. There are a number of legislative requirements associated with off-label use that must be observed.
In Victoria, it is legal to use chemicals other than 'restricted use' chemicals (those requiring an ACUP) off-label providing that:
- the maximum label rate is not exceeded
- the label frequency of application is not exceeded
- any specific label statements prohibiting the use are complied with (e.g. DO NOT statements).
If a person wishes to use a 'restricted use' chemical off-label, they must submit an application for a Section 25A Permit to 'legalise' the use. Application forms are available from the Chemical Use page.
If using a chemical off-label, the user is liable for any problems or breaches of legislation that occur as a result of the off-label use. The use of certain chemicals is also restricted in Victoria's nine Agricultural Chemical Control Areas (ACCAs). Before using any herbicide in these areas, it is advisable to check whether they can be used and what restrictions apply to their application method.
Sources of information regarding the use of a product are:
- the product label
- chemical manufacturers or suppliers
- Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS)
- APVMA PUBCRIS database at www.apvma.gov.au
Always read the entire label before using a chemical product. Labels provide a wealth of information about the chemical product, including:
- its contents
- the toxicity of the chemical
- hosts (plant or animal) that the chemical may be used on in each State
- pests that are controlled by the chemical in each State
- application rate and methods
- withholding periods
- the safety directions and first aid instructions (including protective clothing and equipment)
- storage and disposal instructions.
Choose a chemical that is the least toxic to you, the environment, and to beneficial species (e.g. predators of harmful insects), but still gives the desired control. This information can be found on the chemical product label.
- Products with the signal heading Dangerous Poison are chemicals of high toxicity.
- Products with the signal heading Poison are chemicals with moderate to high toxicity.
- Products with the signal heading Warning or Caution are chemicals with low to moderate toxicity.
Chemicals without these signal headings are likely to be the least toxic.
Only purchase the amount of chemical you need. Estimate the quantity required for the job before visiting your chemical reseller.
Check if the chemical has an expiry date and ensure that the chemical is used before that date. Excess chemical must be stored and/or disposed of safely.
Great care needs to be taken when transporting any chemical product to avoid spills and other accidents. It is preferable to have products delivered. Delivery agents are required to observe controls regarding the transport of chemicals.
If you must pick up chemicals yourself, please note the following:
- Chemicals should always be carried in a separate lockable compartment to the driver and passengers.
- (Note: The boot is not a separate compartment. Containers carried in utilities, trucks or trailers must be securely chained to the vehicle. Transport vehicles must be locked when unattended.)
- Safety equipment, protective clothing, food and drink must be carried separately.
- Containers should be properly packaged. Glass containers should be surrounded by suitable packing material.
Dangerous goods hazard symbols or class labels and hazchem signs should be clearly displayed as required.
Check equipment and calibration
Before using chemical application equipment, make sure that it works properly. Application equipment should be calibrated regularly to ensure that, with the equipment and travel speed used, the correct amount of chemical will be applied to the host. It is recommended that spraymarkers or stockmarkers be used to avoid missed or repeat applications. Properly maintained and calibrated equipment saves you time and money.
Suitable spraying conditions
Are the conditions suitable for spraying? Avoid spraying in conditions likely to cause off-target chemical drift. Drift can occur on perfectly still days, as the chemical can 'hang' in the air and then move elsewhere when there is air movement. Wind may carry the spray off-target. Spraying on hot days may cause crop damage. Rain may wash away the chemical before it has had time to function.
Avoid applying chemicals when the plants are water stressed or frost affected.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Whenever you are decanting, mixing or using chemicals, it is essential that you wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) as described on the label. This equipment is used as a barrier to reduce the risk of chemicals entering the body. PPE includes goggles, face shield, washable hat, respirators, overalls, apron, gloves and rubber boots.
Mixing should be carried out in a well ventilated, well lit and hazard-free area. Mix the chemicals according to the label directions. Only prepare enough for immediate use. Remember when mixing chemicals, you are handling the concentrate, which is more toxic than diluted mixtures. The risk of splashes and absorbing a high dose of chemical is usually greater when the chemical is in its concentrated form. Even though there may only be a small amount, it's still unsafe and should be handled with caution.
How chemicals can enter the body
Chemicals can enter the body through contact with skin, nose, mouth and eyes. The skin and eyes are at risk from splashes and spray drift. Not washing chemicals off the skin before eating, drinking and smoking may allow the chemical to enter via the mouth. The lungs can be affected when breathing in the spray mist, dusts and vapours.
Acute poisoning effects are generally observed within a few hours. Chronic poisoning often follows repeated, low-level exposure. Signs of illness may be delayed for some time after the first exposure.
Use the correct amount of chemical for the job. Applying the wrong amount wastes both time and money. Applying a chemical at rates higher than stated on the label or more frequently than stated on the label can be harmful, create residues and is illegal without a valid permit.
Using less chemical than recommended on the label may not give level of required control and may require repeat application. It may also build-up a resistance in the pest you wish to control.
Sometimes chemicals are mixed together in the same tank to save time, labour, machinery and fuel costs. Mixing products that are not listed on the label as being compatible may change the physical and chemical properties of the products' components. This can result in crop damage, ineffective pest control, damage to application equipment and increased hazards to the user. This practice may also void any product warranty.
Thoroughly clean all mixing, spraying and personal protective equipment as described on the label directions. After using a chemical and before eating, drinking or smoking, wash hands, arms and face thoroughly with soap and water. Shower as soon as possible. Work clothes should be washed separately or disposed of appropriately.
A record should be kept of all spraying, calibration and maintenance including information on:
- spraying (date, weather conditions, chemical, crop pest, operator, safety equipment)
- calibration (date, rate, settings, calibrator)
- maintenance (date, replacement of nozzles)
- accidents (fire, spills, poisoning) as required under the Occupational Health & Safety Act 2004.
It is compulsory to make specified records within 48 hours of using an agricultural chemical product, and keep these records for a period of two years. This applies to all agricultural chemicals used, including poison baits used for pest animal control. This requirement came into effect on 24 July 2007 and excludes the use of household or home garden products.
Chemicals intended for use, or being held prior to disposal, must be stored in a secure, well ventilated and dry area that is out of direct sunlight. The area should only be used for storing chemicals and have bunding to contain chemical spills. Correct storage of chemicals prevents rapid deterioration. The product label often contains information about a product's specific storage requirements.
Containers should be checked frequently for leaks etc.
Store herbicides away from other chemicals to prevent cross contamination. Avoid storing chemicals with fertiliser, seeds, stock food and personal protective equipment. Chemicals should be kept in their original containers and the label should never be removed from containers.
Proper management of unwanted chemicals and empty farm chemical containers is essential. Label instructions for disposal of the chemical and the container should be followed.
Chemical products have a limited life and old or unwanted chemical products must be disposed of responsibly. Many chemical products can be returned to industry disposal programs (e.g. ChemClear).
All empty containers should be triple rinsed before disposal, as empty, unrinsed chemical containers are a hazard to the environment and to public health. Dispose of containers by:
- returning them to your chemical reseller (if recyclable)
- returning the container through an industry, Avcare or other commercial disposal program (e.g. drumMUSTER, which is coordinated through local government)
- puncturing or crushing the container and disposing of it at an approved municipal tip.
Rinsing and wash-down water must not be allowed to drain into ground water, storm drains or water supplies.
- Chemical manufacturers
- Chemical resellers and agronomists
- Chemical Use page
- EPA Waste Management Unit
- Local council Environmental Health Officer
- Local Worksafe office
Chemical Standards Officers
Fax: (03) 5430 4590
|Steve Field||(03) 5430 4463|
|Alex Perera||(03) 5430 4591|
|Felicity Collins||(03) 5833 5203|
|Neil Harrison||(03) 5336 6616|
|Jane Rhodes||(03) 5147 0832|
Enquiries from other regions should be directed to the nearest of the above-named regional officers.
Published and Authorised by:
Department of Environment and Primary Industries
1 Spring Street
This publication is copyright. No part may be reproduced by any process except in accordance with the provisions of the Copyright Act 1968.
The advice provided in this publication is intended as a source of information only. Always read the label before using any of the products mentioned. The State of Victoria and its employees do not guarantee that the publication is without flaw of any kind or is wholly appropriate for your particular purposes and therefore disclaims all liability for any error, loss or other consequence which may arise from you relying on any information in this publication