Farmers are the frontline of the annual battle against weeds and pests – and chemicals remain a common line of defence.
There are more than 8000 pesticides alone registered for use in Australia. 75 per cent are for agricultural settings.
Although billions are spent on pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers in the protection and management of pastures, crops and livestock, there is little record of what goes where and when on a farm-by-farm or region-by-region basis.
Common agricultural chemicals include fuels, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and veterinary chemicals. Exposure to some chemicals can lead to health effects including headache, skin irritation, poisoning, nausea, respiratory illness, burns, cancers and even birth defects.
Because farms are often homes as well as workplaces, potential contact with chemicals by family members is increased. There is also the possibility that chemical residue is taken back into the home, for example on clothing or footwear.
And despite a barrage of best practice advice, training and certification, the full impact of chemicals on the health and wellbeing of people using them or living around them remains largely unknown.
Research results will be geographically mapped and be shared with agricultural industry organisations, says project lead, Deakin’s Associate Professor Robert Faggian. This will add accurate and relevant information to industry organisations’ health and safety resources and initiatives for the farming community.
‘The variety of chemicals available to, and used by, farmers needs to be more thoroughly understood, so that we can better understand the risks. We can only do that with the help of farmers.’ Assoc. Prof. Faggian says.
The National Centre for Farmer Health’s Dr Jacquie Cotton has been working with farmers over many years. Researchers know that farmers have an interest in chemical safety, chemical use and how they might be impacting their health.
‘The more farmers who contribute to the project, the better the information and the better the long-term benefits through industry awareness and education,’ Dr Cotton says.
‘All farmers need to do is share with us their most frequently used agrichemicals. Their contribution and participation in this project will help inform a proactive approach to keeping farmers healthy, informed and safe.’
She says participation for farmers is a simple – and anonymous – 15-minute online survey.
‘By mapping the use of particular chemicals to regions in Victoria, we can tailor education and initiatives, so farmers are supported to continue using agrichemicals on-farm without putting their health, or the health of others who live and work on farm, at risk,’ Dr Cotton says.
Participation in this research project is voluntary. It will cover general agrichemical use and hygiene, PPE (personal protective equipment) practices and description of any injuries or illness experienced during the use of agrichemicals.
Deakin’s Centre for Regional and Rural Futures and the National Centre for Farmer Health are leading this WorkSafe Victoria funded project. Chemicals are one of four focus areas in the WorkSafe Agriculture Strategy 2020-23.