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How to read a pesticide label

A guide to understanding what each item on a label means.

Being able to correctly read a product label is one of the most basic and critical skills that today’s farmers need to have. Understanding how to interpret label categories such as formulation type and directions for use helps growers apply chemicals correctly and effectively, maximizing their crop protection investment. In addition, the label also provides valuable information like signal words, worker protection standard requirements, and storage and disposal requirements, which help growers protect themselves and their workers and promote good land stewardship.

The label contains a great deal of information that growers should review and understand:

  • Brand Name: Even though a product may have the same brand name as another product, it does not necessarily mean that both products contain the same ingredients.
  • Ingredients: The active ingredients are the chemicals that are used to control a type of pest and must be named on the label. The inactive, or inert, ingredients are additives used to make the pesticide safer or more convenient to use. While inert ingredients do not have to be listed on the label, the percentage of inert ingredients does.
  • Chemical Name: The chemical names of pesticides are quite complex and so are sometimes given common names. The EPA must approve the common name before it can be listed on the label.
  • Formulation Type: The formulation type tells if the product is ready-to-use (RTU), or is a concentrate that needs to be diluted before use. The same active ingredient could be either beneficial or harmful to a plant depending on its formulation. Some standard formulations are as follows:
    • Emulsifiable concentrate (E or EC): It is comprised of a liquid active ingredient, a petroleum-based solvent and an agent that allows for the formula to be mixed with water.
    • Solution (S): It dissolves easily in liquids, and does not readily separate or settle after mixing.
    • Flowable (F or FL): It is comprised of a finely-ground solid active ingredient suspended in a liquid.
    • Dust (D): It has a low percentage of an active ingredient along with a very fine dry inert ingredient such as talc, clay, chalk, or ash. They are used dry and float easily in the air.
    • Wettable Powder (WP or W): It is a dry dust that must be mixed with water and applied as a spray.
    • Granular (G): It is dry but the particles are larger than dust and are therefore less likely to drift.
    • Water-Dispersable Granules (WDG) or Dry Flowables (DF): Its active ingredient is granule-sized and must be mixed with water.
    • Microencapsulated (M): It can be either liquid or dry, and is covered with a plastic coating, and is mixed with water when applied.
    • Aerosols (A): It contains a low percentage of active ingredient along with a solvent.
    • Fumigant: It forms poisonous gases when applied, and requires specialized protective gear.
    • Bait (B): It contains an active ingredient along with a food or other attractive substance.
  • Type: The label indicates if the product is herbicide, insecticide, or fungicide.
  • Manufacturer Information:  The name, address and telephone number of the manufacturer is included.
  • Registration and Establishment Numbers: The EPA registration number tells a grower that the product has been approved by the EPA. The establishment number indicates at what facility the product was made. These numbers are needed if there is a case of poisoning, misuse or liability.
  • Signal Words: Based on the formula as a whole, not just the active ingredient, these important warnings indicate the risk of acute effects the pesticide could have.
    • CAUTION: The product is slightly toxic if consumed, absorbed through the skin, or inhaled. It can cause slight eye or skin irritation.
    • WARNING: The product is moderately toxic if consumed, absorbed through the skin, or inhaled, and can cause moderate eye or skin irritation.
    • DANGER/POISON: The product is highly toxic if consumed or inhaled. It could be corrosive to skin or eyes.
  • Precautionary Statements: These can include what hazards to humans or animals the pesticides can have, what route of entry (oral, dermal, inhalation, or eyes) can cause what effects, and what protective equipment should be worn while using the pesticide.
  • Statement of Practical Treatment: Describes how to respond if there is an exposure, including any first aid treatment necessary.
  • Environmental Hazards: The label includes the steps users should take to protect the environment while using the pesticide. It will also indicate if the chemical is particularly hazardous to a specific type of plant or wildlife.
  • Worker Protection Standard Requirements (WPS): The label could include additional protective gear that workers are required to wear or other measures that need to be taken on farms, forests, nurseries, or greenhouses that employ workers.
  • Reentry Statement: Indicates when the treated area can be re-entered safely.
  • Storage and Disposal: The label will include instructions for proper storage and disposal.
  • Directions for Use: It is quite important to follow the instructions for use as it is illegal to use a pesticide in any way other than the directions on the label. This includes using the product only on the plants, animals or sites listed and using the product at the correct dosage, concentration and number of applications. All safety, mixing, diluting, storage and disposal instructions must be followed exactly. It is best to think of them more as requirements than as instructions.

Successful pesticide applications can either make or break your profit goals. Making sure you are correctly interpreting the label is the first step in applying products correctly and safely. For more information on pesticide application, please consult your local Southern States Agronomy expert or local Extension office.

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