Know the rules for pesticide use

Do you apply pesticides on your farm? Even though many livestock farms make use of pesticides, a recent report has highlighted that a high proportion of them don’t see themselves as spray operators. If you ever use a farm sprayer, including a knapsack sprayer, you are a spray operator.

“If you answered ‘yes’ then be aware that spraying activities on livestock farms are likely to come under much closer scrutiny,” says ADAS pesticides specialist Paul Fogg, one of the experts involved in the DEFRA-funded Environment Sensitive Farming advice contract.

“Not surprisingly water protection is driving the change,” says Dr Fogg. “Environment Agency data show that more than 95% of all surface water quality exceedences – that’s where a pesticide is measured at levels above the 0.1 part per billion standard – are caused by just nine herbicides.

“Of these, atrazine and simazine have already had their approvals revoked and IPU (isoproturon) and diuron will soon be removed from the market. That leaves mecoprop, 2,4-D, MCPA, dichlorprop and chlorotoluron and major uses of the first four of these are in grassland management.”


From a business perspective targeting pesticides also makes sense. When products applied end up in watercourses they are failing to do their job in the field. So how can these losses be minimised?

The first step, says Dr Fogg, is to minimise pesticide use through better management. “For example, where leys are overgrazed, particularly in late autumn/winter, they can become poached. The resulting bare soil will allow weeds in. Reduce poaching and you reduce the need to use pesticides,” he adds.

Every farm claiming the single payment should already have completed a Soil Management Review as part of cross-compliance. “When soil is washed into streams phosphates and pesticides go with it. And it doesn’t have to be serious erosion to cause environmental problems. Muddy water running off fields will be sufficient.”

Minimising erosion by maintaining good soil structure, cultivating across slopes, establishing crops early and using min-till cultivations will all help. Buffer strips alongside watercourses and beetle banks positioned across the slope can also be useful measures. Both earn Entry Level Stewardship (ELS) points. Forage maize fields are particularly at risk and there are some specific ELS options to help.

Identifying problem

For product selection, the key is identifying the problem correctly. Timing is also critical. “Take account of weather forecasts and soil conditions. The phenoxy herbicides frequently found in watercourses are mobile compounds, so if there is significant rainfall immediately after spraying, these pesticides will run-off. When rain is forecast, delay spraying or consider using a different type of product,” advises Dr Fogg.

All sprayer operators must be trained and NPTC certificated. But this should not be a one-off exercise. Best practice guidance changes over time.

“Joining the National Register of Sprayer Operators (NRoSO) is a good way of making sure you keep up-to-date.”

Pesticides must be stored safely and securely. This means sited away from watercourses and bunded so that any leakages will be contained. There are a number of cabinet type devices which are ideal for small-scale storage.

When handling, mixing and filling, you are working with the pesticide concentrate so even the slightest splash or drip has the potential to contaminate. It has been calculated the pesticide left on one foil seal is sufficient to contaminate 30km of stream.


Think about where you are filling the sprayer. This will often be in the yard on an impermeable surface like concrete. To prevent any spills and splashes getting into drains the filling area must be bunded and washings from this area collected for safe disposal.

“When possible, the best place to fill the sprayer is in the field well away from any watercourses,” he suggests. “Dirty containers can be up to five times more expensive to dispose of, so triple rinse empty packs and make sure they are well drained. Remember, too, that drum incinerators will be illegal after 15 May this year and that all this advice applies just as much to knapsacks and ATV sprayers as it does to large-scale equipment.”

Make sure all equipment, including nozzles, is in good working order. Preferably get the sprayer – knapsacks included – tested annually under the National Sprayer Testing Scheme.

Plan applications, so that you don’t mix more than you need. Follow the label instructions carefully, paying particular attention to buffer zone requirements under the LERAP scheme. Leave an area of the field untreated so it can be used to dispose of tank washings. Treat headlands last to avoid taking pesticides out of the field on tractor wheels when refilling. Wash down the sprayer in the field.

Finally, remember it is now illegal to dispose of washings to soil or grass areas unless you have a Groundwater Authorisation and even then you will only be able to use that area once a year.


  • The Voluntary Initiative has published a leaflet on Pesticide Use on Livestock Farms. Printed copies are available from your local distributor

  • BCPC Best Practice booklets Small Scale Spraying and Large Scale Spraying, priced at £10 each, are available from the BCPC or call 01420 593 200

  • NRoSO – call 02476 857 600

  • NSTS – call 01733 362 925