Safety on the Farm: Pesticides

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Agriculture has been said to have begun 7 to 10 thousand years ago in an area of Western Asia known today as the “Fertile Crescent”. Since then, agriculture has continuously evolved into the efficient and diverse production we know today, providing a robust industry that remains a vital aspect of the world economy.

Throughout this evolution, the entire world has evolved alongside agriculture. Insects, undesirable plant species, fungi, and other organisms have adapted through thousands of years to use crops as a host for their entire lifespan. While some of these organisms can be beneficial to the growth of the plant, many of them have a parasitic relationship with the crops we depend on every day. Farmers must combat these parasitic organisms to ensure their farm remains profitable and that we have a steady supply of food, clothing, and other materials for our day to day lives.

Modern science has allowed growers to stay ahead of most of the pests that cause issues in their crops by using formulations that are effective and safe for the consumer. However, these chemicals often pose risks at initial application, putting the applicator at risk of serious injury due to exposure. Therefore, the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (NCDA&CS) along with North Carolina Cooperative Extension (NCCE) provide training and support for pesticide applicators to make sure they remain safe and apply chemicals the correct way. Growers must first pass an exam that is based around reading and following the label for each pesticide used, Personal Protective Equipment, and emergency management. Once this exam is passed, growers may purchase and apply restricted use pesticides, however they must complete four hours of coursework to renew their license every three years. These exams and classes are offered in conjunction by NCDA&CS and NCCE. For many applicators that will be applying pesticides elsewhere besides their own farm, they must pass much more strenuous tests and complete more coursework. The license and requirements are specific to each type of pesticide application the applicator plans to make. Farmers, commercial farm service companies, and all other applicators continuously train themselves and spend time reading labels to understand how specific chemicals must be handled. This not only benefits the applicators safety while using the chemical, it also protects the consumer, ensuring that the chemical is not present in the end product. NCCE provides constant support to farmers and other applicators who may have pesticide questions. This support allows all applicators to make informed, science-based decisions that incorporate environmental, economical, and safety when applying.

Modern pest management strategies are critical for growers to provide quality end products that we depend on in our everyday lives. Consumers can be confident that producers throughout the country have been trained to properly handle the products they use to protect themselves, the environment, and everyone who consumes agricultural products.

For more information, please contact your local extension office at 910-592-7161.