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Overcoming chemical storage mistakes

Jaclyn Krymowski for Progressive Forage Published on 01 April 2021

Chemicals used in forage production – namely pesticides and herbicides – represent a significant investment. Despite the impressive price tag, they are far from indestructible.

Ag chemicals are, on the contrary, extremely vulnerable to permanent damage due to human error and environmental factors – mishandling, improper application or, quite commonly, incorrect storage, to name a few.

“Some chemicals can be redeemed after being stored improperly, but some cannot,” says Dean Grossnickel, an agronomic service representative with Syngenta. Gaining a familiarity and understanding of all pesticides and herbicides your farm acquires is important to prevent them from ending up in potentially damaging situations in the first place.

Common issues

Much of the time, farm chemicals suffer the most damage when leftovers are put away and left to sit through the winter in a shed or room. Besides the obvious issues of freezing, these products suffer if they are put in old containers which have not been cleaned properly, according to Grossnickel.

Cross contamination can damage a product’s effectiveness or even cause crop injury.

“If there is an idea of what the contaminant was,” says Grossnickel, “many crop protection suppliers can analyze the pesticide to see how pure it is and what the contaminants were.”

When containers are continually reused or labels rub off, it can be impossible to know what has come into contact with what. Another container-related issue could be physical failings, such as things leaking or breaking. Besides mishandling, environment is the bane of farm chemicals. Freezing and exposure to direct sunlight can be detrimental depending on the product or container.

There are a few simple ways producers can check things before reusing a stored chemical.

“One thing that’s useful is just doing a general eye check,” says Joe Ikley, extension weed specialist at North Dakota State University.

Smaller containers can just be picked up and shaken to make sure the solution is uniform and not separated. In some cases, this can be remedied by agitation.

“Many of the pesticides can go back into solution after separation,” he continued, “but some cannot, depending on the level of what occurred – for instance, if it was frozen for too long.”

In a case like this, Grossnickel explains that certain herbicides will freeze and form crystals but, when warmed in sunlight, can return to normal. Something that cannot be redeemed would be capsule suspension.

“If the product in the capsule freezes, it breaks the capsule, and the broken capsules will clog in line screens,” he says.

Ideal storage

Preventing issues in the first place begins with proper storage. Temperature control is one of the first considerations.

“We want to keep it in general between 40 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit,” says Ikley, noting the highest is usually 90°F. “Other things that we’re going to want with long-term storage is some sort of double containment system.”

He says this could be as simple as a concrete pad with a lip to prevent spillage into other facilities. When possible, an enclosed separate building or room is ideal to further keep exposure from the environment and other containments.

Size and amount of product purchased is another factor which farmers should keep in mind to avoid leftovers. Walter Thomas, head of Syngenta’s technical support, says that besides price, it’s also worth looking at operational constraints and preferences.

For example, bulk sprayers over 800 gallons may be easier to fill with a few drums, but mixing certain products may be easier with smaller amounts.

“Regardless of their size, container storage and disposal are defined on the respective product label,” says Thomas. “Many manufacturers offer recycling programs as part of their product stewardship program.”

Helpful tips

It’s been said countless times: Always read product labels. While it can be an annoyance, many of them do go into detail about how and how not to store them specifically.

“Sometimes the label doesn’t specify a storage temperature,” says Grossnickel. “In this case, it is more than likely OK to freeze and thaw and still have efficacy.”

Besides a visual inspection and agitation, farmers can also do what’s known as a jar test for even better accuracy. This involves taking a quart Mason jar and essentially mixing the product in the same ratio as a commercial sprayer.

“Once you get everything mixed up in that jar, if you cannot shake it up and get into a [proper] solution, then there’s probably something compromised there,” says Ikley.

Why exactly is there so much diversity when it comes to what products can and cannot tolerate? Ultimately, it comes down to the complicated chemistry.

According to Grossnickel, each unique chemical component has its own handling properties, and when many are mixed to create a final product, it complicates the end result.

One of the products they handle has four active ingredients, Grossnickel explains.

“Seems simple, right?” he says, “but there really is over 60 different components to help the product handle well from a storage standpoint, maintain efficacy and mix well with other products.”

In some cases, certain products can be enhanced with a type of antifreeze to allow them to tolerate cooler temperatures.

Another way chemicals can suffer handling damage isn’t so much the storage itself but how they are moved to and from different locations. For this, Thomas recommends all farmers and employees refer to the labels and safety data sheet, or SDS, to understand exactly what they are working with.

“Some good practices to consider include securing your load, ensure no leaking valves or nozzles, and check and maintain all safety gear,” he says.

It is also a good practice to keep a spill containment kit available whenever transporting chemicals. This same logic could apply to places where chemicals are stored or mixed.

Finally, part of chemical storage includes disposal of damaged, old or unused products. Most of this information can, again, be found on the labels.

Thomas notes that, under federal law, growers are required to follow label directions. This is especially important, as groundwater contaminations can be traced to farms and chemical misuse.  end mark

Getty Images.

Jaclyn Krymowski is a freelancer based in Ohio.