Mapping the use of chemicals on Victorian farms to keep farming communities safe

Farmers are on the front line in the annual fight against weeds and pests – and chemicals remain a common line of defence.

There are over 8,000 pesticides registered for use in Australia. 75% are intended for agricultural environments.

Although billions are spent on pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers for the protection and management of pastures, crops and livestock, there is little record of what goes where and when, farm by farm or region by region.

Common agricultural chemicals include fuels, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and veterinary chemicals. Exposure to certain chemicals can lead to health effects including headaches, skin irritations, poisoning, nausea, respiratory illnesses, burns, cancers and even birth defects.

Because farms are often homes as well as workplaces, potential contact with chemicals by family members is increased. It is also possible that chemical residues are brought back into the house, for example on clothes or shoes.

And despite a deluge of best practice advice, training and certification, the full impact of chemicals on the health and well-being of those who use them or live near them remains largely unknown.

The Center for Regional and Rural Futures at Deakin University and the National Center for Farmer Health are leading a project to map the types of agrochemicals currently used in Victoria.

Research results will be mapped geographically and shared with agricultural industry organizations, says project leader Deakin Associate Professor Robert Faggian. This will add accurate and relevant information to industry organizations’ health and safety resources and initiatives for the farming community.

“The variety of chemicals available and used by farmers needs to be better understood, so that we can better understand the risks. We can only do this with the help of farmers. Assoc. said Professor Faggian.

Dr. Jacquie Cotton of the National Center for Farmer Health has worked with farmers for many years. Researchers know that farmers are interested in chemical safety, the use of chemicals and their potential impact on their health.

“The more farmers contributing to the project, the better the information and the better the long-term benefits through industry outreach and education,” says Dr Cotton.

“All farmers need to do is share their most frequently used agrochemicals with us. Their input and participation in this project will help inform a proactive approach to keeping farmers healthy, informed and safe.

She says Farmer Participation is a simple – and anonymous – 15-minute online survey.

“By mapping the use of particular chemicals across regions in Victoria, we can tailor education and initiatives, so farmers are encouraged to continue using agrochemicals on the farm without putting their health or the health of others at risk. people who live and work on the farm, at risk,’ says Dr Cotton.

Participation in this research project is voluntary. It will cover the general use and hygiene of agrochemicals, PPE (personal protective equipment) practices, and description of any injuries or illnesses incurred while using agrochemicals.

Deakin’s Center for Regional and Rural Futures and the National Center for Farmer Health are leading this WorkSafe Victoria-funded project. Chemicals is one of the four priority areas of the WorkSafe Agriculture Strategy 2020-23.