How to safely use herbicides and pesticides

As a boy, I had the wonderful opportunity to grow up around a farm. I got to help plant, cultivate, grow and harvest crops, raise and work cattle, and get up way before the sun did to milk dairy cows on a Holstein dairy farm. Back in the day of the small square bales, I think I hauled enough to cross the U.S. if they were set end to end. At least it sure felt that way.

And to be honest, there were some mornings when the alarm would go off at 3:30 sharp, and I really ­wondered if farming was really what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Though farming isn’t for ­everyone, there is something about being outside and seeing what one can do with the land before him that is a ­wonderful thing.

In thinking back to my years spent on a dairy and hog farm, and what I have been able to learn since then, I realize I did some things, and worked with some equipment and products, that had the potential to be ­dangerous. I somewhat blindly used products that had a serious potential for harm. I just didn’t know better. One type of ­product I now know more about are herbicides and pesticides that were used to control certain weeds and pests. So, I would like to share some safe work practices for working with herbicides and pesticides on your farm.

In Illinois a commercial entity, either for-hire or not-for-hire, which purchases and applies herbicides and pesticides is required by law to take and pass an industry specific test every three years. The exam refreshes the individual on safe transport of ­product, tank-mixing, spraying and drift, and proper disposal of containers.

There are federal laws and guidelines as outlined by the United States EPA, and in Illinois the use of herbicides and pesticides fall under the close eye of Illinois agencies like the Department of Agriculture, EPA, Department of Transportation, Emergency Management Agency and more.

If you are on a farm in Illinois, there is little doubt you use some form of herbicides and/or pesticides. Here are some reminders for using these ­products while being as safe as you can.

• Always remember that a ­herbicide label is a legal document and should always be read before using that product and referred to if you have questions.

• When transporting herbicides or pesticides never have them close to food or grain products, and never have them inside a closed vehicle.

• If transporting more than 1,000 pounds, special considerations are needed and regulated by the Federal hazardous material transport rules.

• Never put unused product in an unmarked container.

• The one instruction that is on every product label is to “Keep out of Reach of Children”. This is essential!

• When mixing or pouring product into a tank keep the container below eye level so product cannot splash into your eyes.

• Proper clothing should always be worn when mixing or applying herbicides and pesticides. Rubber gloves, aprons, face shields, goggles and unlined rubber boots are all good to wear while handing such products.

• When mixing a spray tank, give care that no product spills out and runs to a drain or water source of any kind.

• Always mix products in a well-lit and ventilated area with some sort of spill containment.

• If there is a spill, do everything you can to stop and contain it.

• Spray drift is the number one complaint among the public, though there are issues with any wind options, one should not spray if the wind is in excess of 10 mph.

• A buffer zone of 66′ should be observed when spraying around surface water such as streams, creeks, rivers, lakes, and ponds.

• If there are bee keepers nearby, they should be notified of your intent to spray.

• All re-entry intervals listed on the label should be observed for ­workers and cattle.

• If clothing gets spray drift on it, it should be removed and laundered that day.

• If clothing gets soaked in the ­product, remove and dispose of it as the label instructs.

• When spraying, if you have excess product when done, you are per­mitted to dilute the amount in the tank and re-apply to an area, as long as it does not exceed amounts per acre as indicated on the label.

• When disposing of used ­containers, follow the process on the label and by guidelines established by the Illinois EPA.

• Do not spray if heavy rain is expected.

• Scouting is the first and most important step in determining the weed or pest you are trying to control with herbicides and pesticides.

Ken Macken is the Manager of Safety and Loss Control for the Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives.
Ken Macken is the Manager of Safety and Loss Control for the Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives.

There are many more ideas and safe work practices when using herbicides and pesticides, but following these will greatly reduce your risk. You can contact the Illinois Department of Agriculture at 217-782-2171 or for more ­information.