Understanding Agro-chemicals Labels

By Doug McClymont

A farmer mixing herbicides into a knapsack sprayer

Do you remember going into an old chemist shop (pharmacy or drug store nowadays) and seeing the glass bottles on the shelves with the various chemicals in them? Each bottle was individually blown, had a ground glass stopper, and the name of the contents embossed on the glass. There was also this indefinable but characteristic scent of the chemist shop. When I was a child, Strachan’s Chemist in Salisbury had an old pre-War cabinet with a range of these bottles collected over the years since the shop opened before the First World War. The new owners destroyed all these in the 1960s and I have always thought what a shame it was. The new owner was a CA and therefore had no sense of history or tradition. In those days things were simple, the number of the chemicals was low and most of the remedies dispensed to the customers were made up of combinations of these basic chemicals from formulas and recipes that were part of the tradition. With progress (!?) all this disappeared and we get the situation today where everything is shrink or bubble wrapped and the doctor’s prescription, rather than suggesting a formula or recipe for a medicine, now just allows the pharmacist to remove a prescribed drug from the drugs cabinet and sell a small dose to the customer. The ‘social conscience’ now dispensed by the WHO now makes it compulsory for the products bought without a doctor’s prescription to have volumes of ‘safety data’ on the label. In many cases, as with perfume, the cost of the packaging and the labeling far outweigh the cost of the product being sold. The same applies in many ways to agrochemicals.

A chemical store at a farm

The main difference between agrochemicals and medicine is that medicines are meant to heal while agrochemicals are meant, by and large, to kill. Look at any pesticide on the market today and one can see that the manufacturers and those recommending them have included a great deal of information as regards the safe and effective use of the product. In general, one can usually trust what is written on the label if it is from a reputable source. However, it is worth knowing what is written on the various labels and more importantly, understanding what the implications are of the various terms used on the label. Generally, farmers, and others, take a great deal for granted, and every now and then some tragedy occurs when the pesticide labels are brought into the spotlight. An overall appraisal of the main points held on every label will provide you with more information and this extra knowledge can be valuable. Many labels seem to have so much information that most of it is often ignored until tragedy strikes. This may well be so, but you should be able to get what info you require fairly easily.

Trade name – all labels have the trade name usually highlighted, as this is a major selling point for the manufacturer and distributor. Today most trade names have to include some vital information, which may not be obvious, but the more respectable manufacturers include this as a matter of course. This information relates to FORMULATION and CONCENTRATION. So you will see something like WONDERKILLER 250 EC. The 250 EC is an accurate technical bit and is often overlooked. The number 250 relates to the concentration of the product in the bottle. In general terms it can be either 250 or 25; if it is 250 then usually the concentration is 250 grams/litre or per kg whereas in older products the 25 means a 25% solution or formulation. The EC relates to the type of formulation and there is a standard abbreviation for the main types. EC refers to an emulsifiable concentrate but there are a whole lot of others. Table 1 shows some of the more common abbreviations you may see.

Code Terms

AB Grain bait

AE Aerosol dispenser

CB Bait concentrate

CF Capsule Suspension for Seed Treatment

CG Encapsulated granule

CL Contact liquid or gel

CP Contact powder

CS Capsule suspension

DC Dispersible concentrate

DP Dispersible powder

DS Powder for dry seed treatment

DT Tablet for direct application

EC Emulsifiable concentrate

ED Electro chargeable liquid

EG Emulsifiable granule

EO Emulsion, water in oil

EP Emulsifiable powder

ES Emulsion for seed treatment

EW Emulsion, oil in water

FG Fine granule

FS Flowable concentrate for seed treatment

GA Gas

GB Granular bait

GF Gel for Seed Treatment

GP Flo-dust

GR Granule

GS Grease

GW Water soluble gel

LS Solution for seed treatment

MC Mosquito coil

ME Micro-emulsion

MG Microgranule

MV Vaporizing mats

OD Oil dispersion

OF Oil miscible flowable concentrate (oil miscible suspension)

OL Oil miscible liquid

OP Oil dispersible powder

PC Gel or paste concentrate

PO Pour-on

PS Seed coated with a pesticide

RB Bait (ready for use)

SA Spot-on

SC Suspension concentrate (= flowable concentrate)

SD Suspension concentrate for direct application

SE Suspo-emulsion

SG Water soluble granule

SL Soluble concentrate

SO Spreading oil

SP Water soluble powder

SS Water soluble powder for seed treatment

ST Water soluble tablet

SU Ultra-low volume (ULV) suspension

TB Tablet

UL Ultra-low volume (ULV) liquid

VP Vapour releasing product

WG Water dispersible granules

WP Wettable powder

WS Water dispersible powder for slurry seed treatment

WT Water dispersible tablet

Common Pesticide Formulation Abbreviations  So, just from the trade name you can tell whether the product is water-soluble, what its general application method is, and how much active ingredient should be in the product formulation.

The Active ingredient – the ‘active ingredient’ is the most important information on the label, as this is basically what makes the pesticide work. This is the actual name of the ingredient and/or ingredients and tells you what the product is. Too many farmers rely on the trade name for the product but it is the active ingredient that is the common denominator. If the active ingredient states “glyphosate” then that is what the product is despite it being called Roundup®, Sting®, Glyphogan®, Drive Weeder®, whatever. Never be taken in by a new trade name – always check the “active” on the label. This is especially important with “combis” or mixes. You must know the percentage of each active ingredient to get an idea of the activity of the product. Many herbicide mixes contain two or more active ingredients and one must have enough of each of these at the correct level if the desired spectrum of weeds is to be controlled. Be careful of products labeled XXXX Plus. Always check what the “plus” that makes up the product is. Often these mixes are punted as a cheap one-shot control, but especially under Zimbabwe conditions, one must make sure that all the active ingredients (the a.i.’s) are there in sufficient quantities.

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