Safe and Effective Pesticide Use

Posted: May 3, 2012

What do you think of when you hear the term "Pesticide Use?" You probably only think about pesticide application. However, there is much more to SAFE and effective pesticide use than just the application process.

Andy Muza, Extension Educator Penn State Extension - Erie County

Safe use of pesticides involves a series of steps which includes: planning, transporting, loading/mixing, application, cleaning (sprayer, containers, clothing), disposal, storage, recordkeeping, and worker protection. Each step is equally important.


This step should be the most time consuming and thought out process which takes into account all of the subsequent steps. The planning process should begin well before the spraying season begins.


•    Pest Problems - What were your pest problems in the previous season(s)?

•    Pesticides - What pesticides should you purchase this season that will have the greatest efficacy for these pest problems? Don't base decisions solely on cost of pesticides. Cheapest doesn't mean most effective.

•    Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) - Do you have required PPE for pesticides to be purchased? READ the LABEL for specifics. The label provides the minimum PPE required for each pesticide, but you have the option to wear more (e.g., face shield/protective glasses, unlined rubber boots, chemical resistant gloves [nitrile, butyl, neoprene] and apron, respirator).

•    Recordkeeping - What records should you keep? Pesticide application records are required by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture for restricted use materials. However, for worker protection and your own information and safety, keep records of all pesticide applications. Chemical labels and Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) should be kept with your spray records. Scouting records and maps of farm fields are important and should be a part of a record-keeping system.

•    Scouting - Frequent scouting throughout the season is KEY to knowing if and when pesticide applications are necessary. Know how to identify pest problems and injury/symptoms, know biology of pests and life cycles, and how to scout.

•    Accidental Pesticide Poisoning - Pesticide Labels and MSDS have first aid information. Keep Poison Control numbers handy. Go to the back cover of the Pennsylvania Commercial Vegetable Production Recommendations

•    Pesticide Spill/Fire
- Know what to do if a pesticide spill/fire occurs. Purchase spill kit(s) and fire extinguisher(s), and have local fire department number. Contact local fire department personnel for specific protocol concerning fire and pesticides. Keep an inventory of all pesticides in storage.

•    Resistance Management - Check past records to determine how often specific pesticides have been used. Are you receiving adequate management of pests from these pesticides? Is it time to incorporate new pesticides into your pest management strategy? 

•    Alternate - Don't overuse or solely rely on specific pesticides for management of pest problems. Rotate the use of pesticides throughout the season by alternating between unrelated classes of pesticides (i.e., different Resistance Group Numbers).

•    Tank Mix - Most commonly used in disease management. Tank mixing unrelated fungicides with different modes of action which are both effective against the same disease is an important strategy to delay resistance.

•    Conserve Natural Enemies - Whenever possible use pesticides less harmful to beneficials.


During transport bring along PPE, spill kit, fire extinguisher and shovel. Pesticides should be secured in a separate compartment from driver. See fact sheets:                                                                                                                              1) Transporting Pesticides in Pennsylvania

2) Transporting Pesticides in Pennsylvania, Part 2


During the loading and mixing of pesticides there is a greater risk of accidental poisoning since pesticides are in a concentrated form.

•    Use PPE required by the pesticide label(s). See fact sheet: Respiratory Protective Devices for Pesticides

•    Be sure to have access to a clean water supply, liquid detergent, clean paper towels, eye wash station.

•    Be aware of pH of water (varies throughout season depending on source). Adjust, if necessary, depending on pesticides used. See fact sheet: Alkaline Degradation of Pesticides

•    Mix pesticides in proper order. Read the Pesticide Label. See fact sheets:

1) Spray Adjuvants

2) Preparing Pesticide Tank Mixes


Check equipment for proper working order (hoses, pumps, nozzles, etc.).

•    Calibrate Sprayer - Sprayers should be calibrated at a minimum the beginning of each season. Preferably two to three times per season as crop canopy increases. Consider using spray cards, or fluorescent tracers to check spray coverage. Go to Pesticide Application Technology
•    Be aware of pesticide registrations, pre-harvest intervals, and reentry intervals.  Go to National Pesticide Information Retrieval System (NPIRS)

•    Monitor weather conditions.

•    Use appropriate gallonage, speed, pressure, nozzles for type of application and size of canopy.


Cleaning (sprayer, containers, clothing)

Sprayer - See fact sheets:

1) Cleaning your sprayer
2) Cleaning Pesticide Application Equipment

3)Maintenance, Cleaning and Storage of Ground Sprayers



Triple rinse or pressure rinse. Go to and click on Plastic Pesticide Container Recycling Program for information on How to Triple Rinse Your Containers.

Clothing - See fact sheets:

1) Washing Pesticide Work Clothing
2) Pesticide-Contaminated Clothing Needs Washing Care


Go to: and click on The CHEMSWEEP Waste Pesticide Disposal Program.
Storage - See fact sheet Pesticide Storage and Security

Record keeping

Pesticide Record keeping Forms - Go to and click on Record keeping Forms.

Chemical Labels and MSDS - Go to:

1) Crop Data Management Systems
2) The Greenbook
3) List of MSDS Databases

Scouting  and IPM Information - Go to:

1) IPM Field Guides
2) IPM Plan Guide Sheet, Practices for Vegetable Production

Pesticide Information - Go to:

1) Penn State Pesticide Education Program
2) Northeastern Region Pesticide Education Centers (resources site)

Worker Protection Standards - See fact sheet:

EPA Worker Protection Standard for Agricultural Pesticides