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Stay safe with treated seed

As you plant this spring -- something you'll likely be in a rush to do after weeks of rain delays and inclement conditions -- don't overlook important safety precautions when handling treated seed as you hustle to load the planter.

Most all seed planted nowadays is treated with a pesticide of some kind. Though those chemicals are designed to target specific pests -- whether insect, nematode or fungus -- harm can come to the human handler if you're not protected, says University of Minnesota Extension crops specialist Lizabeth Stahl.

"Although growers may be more familiar with checking an herbicide or insecticide label for the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) to wear when handling a product, every bag of treated seed will also list the proper PPE to be worn when handling the treated seed," Stahl says. "Wearing the appropriate PPE will help reduce or prevent pesticide exposure when working with treated seed."

So, what defines the right PPE for handling treated seed? It's not that unusual compared to what you'd typically wear to the field, for the most part, though it includes a few slight twists.

"The PPE to be worn when handling treated seed will typically include a long-sleeve shirt, long pants, shoes, socks, and chemical-resistant gloves. Unless the seed bag label specifies the type of chemical-resistant gloves to be worn, there are several types a handler can choose from, varying in flexibility and durability," Stahl says. "Note that leather or cloth gloves are not chemically resistant! Cloth and leather gloves can soak up pesticide residues and result in pesticide exposure each time they are worn."

But, just ensuring you're covered isn't the end of the protective process. Treated seed can be toxic to some insects -- namely bees and other pollinators that some experts say have been threatened in number by some pesticides common in crop production -- making proper disposal of unused seed important to your overall natural surroundings.

"Treated seed should also not be left on the ground surface as some products can be hazardous to birds and mammals, or may be toxic to fish and aquatic invertebrates. Any seed spills should be covered or cleaned up as soon as possible. A number of products are also toxic to bees and pollinators, so care should be taken to minimize dust as much as possible when filling and emptying out planters. Avoid conducting these tasks near flowering plants where bees and pollinators may be foraging," Stahl says. "The best and most preferred option is to plant out any leftover treated seed on fallow ground or an unused parcel of land. Depending on the seed treatment, there may be restrictions on planting rate and depth. Seed burial may also be allowed, although care must be taken avoid burial next to water sources. Other potential options include disposal in an approved municipal landfill, use as a fuel source for a power plant or kiln, or incineration by a waste management facility."

And if all else fails, check the label. Many products offer other ways to dispose of seed, or ways to utilize it so you don't have to simply get rid of it.

"Always be sure to check the seed bag label for specific details and restrictions about the product you are using. Depending on the product, there may also be rotational, plant-back, grazing or feeding restrictions," Stahl says.

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