Meristem Land and Science: Driving Progress in Sustainability


Details drive safe pesticide storage

It pays to think ahead and have an Environmental Farm Plan, says Jock McIntosh

Posted: November 1, 2012

Many a hockey coach has touted the importance of attention to details as critical to success.

The same can be said for running a farming operation, says Jock McIntosh of Alberta Environment and Water. Perhaps nowhere is this more relevant than when it comes to safe pesticide storage.

"It's not the most noticed or exciting part of farming," he says. "It might not be the main thing on your mind when you're dealing with dozens of other pressures and requirements. But it's one of those things that should be at the top of any farmer's priority list because it is a major safety issue. The details are key and they need to be looked after."

Environmental Farm Plans (EFP) are a tool producers can use to ensure safe pesticide storage, says McIntosh, one of the editors who helped develop the wording in the EFP workbook. "Having an EFP is a great way to make sure you are following the right safe storage approach."

Six fundamentals of crop chem storage

There are a number of fundamentals that are absolute musts, says McIntosh.

1. Minimize what you need to store. If producers can keep what they store to a minimum, that is the best way to reduce risk. A good start is to look hard at exactly how much product you need and just buy that quantity.

Sometimes the best storage decision taken is the decision not to store, says McIntosh. "We run into a lot of problems where people have product left over at the end of the year and we always encourage them to better manage it."

Often, thinking leftover product will be used the next year simply doesn't work out, he says. "It's easy to think, maybe it'll be good for next year. Due to various crop rotation strategies you may not likely use it or forget about it over the next two or three years."

Waste product becomes hazardous waste, he says. "My advice is think hard about whether you really want to store or not. If you have any doubt about using it the next year, it's likely the best decision is to find another means to use it up and not to store in the first place."

2. Secure your storage. Pesticides should be stored in a place where they're completely separated from the other activities that happen on the farm. That means not just isolated storage but secured isolated storage.

Fundamentals of safe storage should be followed for any type of chemical or other potentially dangerous product, says McIntosh. "It's best if we can look at the safe storage issue from a broad perspective and keep our approaches consistent. It's not just about pesticides. It's with any hazardous substance that you're working with on the farm. List them, talk about them, have a plan for them. If you're not sure if something is hazardous, ask a trusted advisor."

3. Think environmental protection. Environmental considerations top the list of where to locate storage. Water protection is number one. Make sure storage isn't in an area that could contaminate either surface water or groundwater if a spill were to occur.

"Deciding where to store is one of the most important decisions," he says. "Where are you going to put that and make sure it's not going to be in a flood zone or close to people? If there was a fire or explosion, what don't you want it to be around? If you were to hit it with water in a fire response, where will that water run to? You don't want contaminated water running into the ground or surface water."

Keeping storage isolated is just part of it, he says. "Have a plan. Have a good design."

4. Have spill containment in place. If there were to be a spill, the best line of defence is to have good spill containment in place before it happens. For example, having a tray or pan under the stored product, and having everything on a non-absorbent surface.

"This is a big issue," says McIntosh. "What if a product case has a leak? Too often its something that's not thought about until someone wants to sell land or when there's an obvious clean up issue. You need a secondary containment option, designed to protect ground, surface water and property."

5. Develop an emergency plan. Planning ahead is also the key to managing an emergency situation. In Alberta, a good resource is the Rural Emergency Plan available through the Alberta Environmental Farm Plan website or directly at www.ruralemergencyplan.com.

"It's a great tool to get families thinking and talking about an emergency - even if it's around the supper table!"

6. Practice safe disposal. Safe handling and storage should accommodate the full life cycle of the product container. That means ensuring safe disposal once the containers are used. Producers may have their vendor handle this, or, depending on the size of the container (less than 23 Litres), they may want to use a container collection site available through CropLife Canada's CleanFarm program, says McIntosh. "The important thing is to not keep used containers on-farm."

The process of completing or updating an EFP will walk producers through these fundamentals, he says.

More information on EFPs in Alberta is available at www.albertaefp.com.

Reprintable with credit. This article is available for reprint, with acknowledgement of the source as Meristem Land and Science, www.meristem.com.

Meristem is a Calgary-based communications firm that specializes in writing about western agriculture, food and land use. More articles at www.meristem.com.

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