Why Manage Chemicals?

Chemical management on farm and in the supply chain is not just limited to agricultural chemicals, but also includes cleaning and maintenance of chemicals and fuels. The establishment of a chemical management program is not just to prevent contamination of fresh produce, but also addresses other key risks including the health and safety of people handling chemicals and the prevention of environmental issues from incorrect handling. Chemicals are also an expense to every business, and therefore careful use (right chemical, right time, right amount) will help a business’s bottom line.

The link to food safety and HACCP

As a HACCP Based food safety system, Freshcare considers Chemicals as a hazard significant for food safety.

In conducting the hazard analysis, wherever possible the following is considered:

  • the likely occurrence of hazards and severity of their adverse health effects;
  • the qualitative and/or quantitative evaluation of the presence of hazards;
  • production or persistence in foods of toxins, chemicals or physical agents; and,
  • conditions leading to the above.

A hazard analysis of each process in the flow diagram is conducted to:

  • identify potential risk of food safety and quality hazards;
  • determine the causes of the hazard;
  • assess the significance of the risk posed by each hazard; and
  • determine the practices that prevent or satisfactorily minimise the risk of the hazard occurring.

Therefore, within the food safety system of a business, chemicals are a HACCP Critical Control Point (CCP) and therefore must be managed appropriately. Freshcare helps growers achieve this by providing clear compliance criteria to follow, supporting resources, through Factsheets and record keeping options.

The chemical management program implemented by a business in accordance with the Freshcare criteria, when done correctly, will reduce the likelihood of an incident occurring and reduce the risk to food safety.

Other important components that are to be considered include:

  • training and supervision,
  • limiting access to those persons who have the appropriate skills and knowledge to handle chemicals,
  • ensuring all equipment used is maintained and calibrated,
  • keeping timely and accurate records of applications/treatments, and
  • undertaking reviews to ensure the system is implemented.

We interviewed auditor and trainer Tim Beard and Standards and Compliance Manager Renate Maihofer on some important facts about chemical user management to share with growers.

Why is agricultural chemical management important for farming?
Chemical management is critical in all farming operations, this ensures all chemicals are being applied as per directions for use on label or permit, and the treatment is conducted at the correct growth stage and for the target pest or disease.

Chemical management is important because it ensures that chemical applications is not a food safety risk for human consumption.

Additional considerations include

  • Weather conditions are monitored and recorded as per label instructions (look for humidity levels and rain fall in critical comments). Consider risk of spray drift and ideal uptake conditions for crop.
  • Is equipment set up correctly? Look at droplet size, coverage, and potential resistance issues. This will ensure control of the pest, little chemical wastage, less resistance, and minimal environmental impacts.
  • Is the use of hazardous chemicals conducted in an area away from produce growing and storage areas?
  • Do you have an area for disposal of excess mixed chemicals?
  • Does the person using the chemical have the right equipment for the task? Do they have the right knowledge and skills to perform the task correctly and safely?

What are some good habits of chemical management that growers should be mindful of throughout the year, example storage, handling, spill kits etc.?

Growers should ensure that chemical inventory is always maintained and record batch numbers/ manufacture dates as chemicals enter the shed (or have the retailer put them on the invoice or docket). You should also maintain segregation of chemicals keep herbicides and fungicides and insecticides in separate sections of the shed.

An annual review of the chemicals and the storage area as part of the internal audit, will ensure all chemicals are current, permits haven’t expired, labels are legible, and other items such as PPE and spill kit is available.

Look at using the DrumMuster program to dispose of empty drums and any old or expired chemicals are disposed of via the ChemClear program.

What are some key things to look out for whilst preparing for audit?

Key areas to review whilst preparing for an audit include:

  • Are chemical records and inventory/purchase records up to date with all applicable information as per Freshcare requirements?
  • Are calibration records being completed annually?
  • Is the chemical shed/ storage area secure, clean, and tidy, are all containers in good condition with legible label?
  • Are other chemicals used on the site also controlled and handled properly, such as chlorine, hazardous chemicals, fuels, maintenance chemicals?
  • Are training records up to date?
  • Have receipts been retained for disposal of chemical drums or old/expired chemicals?
  • Finally, retain the Drum Muster receipt as this proves drums are being disposed of in an environmentally friendly way.

What are some of the commonly overlooked details/mistakes you see trainees make and what suggestions do you have for making sure they don’t happen?

  • Batch numbers and inventory seem to be common missing items. Tips to manage this could include having a folder in the shed where all delivery dockets can be retained, write batch numbers and/or Date of manufacture (DOM) on the dockets (many retailers are recording the batch numbers on dockets upon delivery).
  • Make sure the shed is clean and tidy, bins emptied, spill kit available etc.
  • Poor record keeping. Train staff how to correctly fill out chemical application sheets or implement the use of farm management software to assist in this. Examples include Fieldin, Conservis, ABC spray and Agworld, AgSafe etc. (Freshcare does not endorse any of these products individually)
  • Chemical prices have increased up to 200% in the past twelve months, so this is a great incentive to get application rates correct.

Why does a grower need to understand their agriculture chemical application program when having their produce tested? Why is this important?

MRLs only provide a snapshot of what’s being applied at a point in time and for a very small portion of your crop. The completion of a residue test is a verification of the ongoing management of chemicals and treatment programs by the business.

Growers and operators need to read the withholding periods on labels or permits and continually engage with grower liaison officers/agronomists to ensure the chemical being applied are fit for purpose.

The tests selected need to include all treatments applied, both pre-harvest and postharvest. The laboratory you choose to use for testing will have information available on what active constituents are covered by each test group. If you are unsure, check in with your lab before submitting your product.

It is important to note that there should be more than one product tested, where there are significant differences in crop groupings managed, and/or chemical application/treatment programs.

To ensure appropriate control of risk, a business must assess whether further testing is required. If required, product testing is to be completed.

Particular attention needs to be applied to export requirements in particular the UK and Japan, as many export markets have much lower MRL limits.

Further information on maximum residue limits can be found on the Food Standards Australia New Zealand Website Food Standards Code under Schedule 20. Schedule 20 lists the maximum residue limits that apply in Australia.

For further information, you can access the Chemicals Factsheets for your program via the resources section on Freshcare Online. If you need help accessing this, send us a message via our contact page we’ll send you your user login details.