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Home >  Blog >  Safe Chemical Handling on Small Farms

Safe Chemical Handling on Small Farms

Posted by Amanda Walker on 25 May 2017
Safe Chemical Handling on Small Farms

Many small landholders in Australia rely on chemicals to protect their agricultural enterprises from pests, weeds and diseases. Chemicals provide many benefits to primary production but must be used responsibly to minimise the adverse effects associated with their use. Chemicals can be applied by a variety of means including boom sprayers, aerial spraying, misters, blanket wipers, rope wick applicators, weed seekers and back-pack sprayers.

It is good to remind yourself that chemicals on the farm can be dangerous. Common agricultural chemicals (agrichemicals) include fuels, solvents, insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, fertilisers and veterinary chemicals. Farmers need to take care when storing, transporting, using and disposing of chemicals to ensure their own safety; their neighbours' safety and that of the environment.

Any chemical should be treated with extreme caution and only ever used according to the instructions. Vapours or direct exposure can lead to a variety of acute (short-term) and chronic (long-term) health effects. Health effects can include headache, poisoning, burns, birth defects, nervous system disorders and some cancers. 

MSDS information for Agricultural Chemicals 

Hazardous materials are required by law to include a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) and label. The MSDS gives valuable information on how to safely handle the chemical. Before using any farm chemical, you should read the label, understand the MSDS, do a chemical users course (such as ChemCert), and follow usage instructions.

Manufacturers and importers are required to supply a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) that details information on the chemical, including:

  • the registered use of the chemical

  • precautions for use

  • possible health effects

  • safety measures for handling

  • contact numbers for further information

  • withholding periods

it is the responsibility of the farmers to ensure correct usage and that slaughter or production withholding periods are observed. It is important that you research chemicals prior to purchase to ensure that you buy the most suitable and least dangerous chemical available to do the job you require. MSDSs can be found online to assist in safe and effective chemical choices and should be thoroughly read before use and kept in an accessible place for reference.


Labels for Agricultural Labels

Pesticides are chemicals intended for preventing, destroying or controlling any pest including unwanted species of plants, insects or animals. The term 'pesticide' can include products such as:

  • herbicides eg weed sprays

  • insecticides and larvicides eg insect sprays, repellents or baits

  • vertebrate pest products, eg baits, poisons or toxins

  • Biocides eg pool chemicals.

No matter which pesticide you use or where you use it, you should always read and understand the label instructions and use only as directed. Following the directions helps maximise the product's effectiveness and minimises your risk of exposure to the chemical while helping protect people, animals, crops and the environment.


Safe Use of Agricultural Chemcials

When planning to apply chemicals around your property, it is suggested that you consider the following: 

  • Ensure anyone using agricultural chemicals is suitably trained to use both the chemical and any equipment required for application.

  • Use chemical decanting kits to reduce the risk of spills and splashes while mixing chemicals.

  • Only mix the quantity of chemical required for the task at hand.

  • Make sure the decanting and mixing area is well ventilated. If this is not possible, ensure that recommended personal protective equipment (PPE) is worn for enclosed environments.

  • Follow the manufacturer's instructions on the label.

  • Always wear recommended protective clothing such as chemical-resistant gloves, overalls, goggles and appropriate P2 facemasks or a P3 respirator. (Respirator cartridges should provide multi-level gas protection.)

  • Avoid exposing non-target animals or plants.

  • Triple rinse equipment after chemical application and dispose of the rinse water (rinsate) appropriately. Rinsate contains low concentrations of the chemical from the cleaning process.


Disposal procedures for agrichemicals

Once you have completed your spraying application, you will need to ensure that you safely dispose of all chemical solutions. Suggestions for the safe disposal of chemicals include:

  • Always follow the manufacturer's instructions for proper disposal of both chemicals and rinsate from equipment.

  • Thoroughly triple rinse and then puncture empty containers to prevent reuse for other purposes.

  • Return empty containers to the manufacturer or check with your local council about proper disposal methods.

  • Audit your chemical store on a regular basis and dispose of any excess or outdated chemicals in the appropriate manner.

  • Contact Agsafe to find out about your local container collestion point.



  • There are many chemicals used on the farm and some of them can be dangerous.

  • Common agricultural chemicals include fuels, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and veterinary chemicals.

  • Exposure to chemicals can lead to health effects including headache, poisoning, respiratory illness, burns, cancers and birth defects.

  • Always follow the manufacturers' instructions for storage, transport, use and disposal of chemicals.

  • Keep all chemicals locked away and out of reach of children and wear appropriate protective gear.



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Amanda WalkerAuthor:Amanda Walker
About: Amanda Walker is the Director of The Farm Co and Yerecoin Traders. Amanda has extensive experience in animal health, working for a number of years with the Institute for Animal Health in the UK. Amanda also worked for a UK government response team during the Foot and Mouth outbreak back in in 2001. Amanda has a keen interest in sheep and livestock health, working with her local grower to help manage their parasite control throughout the seasons.
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