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Seed Treatment Product Safety

Although seed treatments actually date back to 470 B.C., we as agricultural producers are obviously more concerned about the more modern applications of these processes, not only because they have been found to be beneficial to early crop protection but especially because they have been of concern to the safety of humans and the environment. In the last 10 years, there has been a resurgence of treated seed use, largely due to the advent of improved chemical performance.

Ag production is seeing a significant increase in the usage of these products, with the global market exceeding $5.1 billion in sales in 2017. From 2008 to 2013, manufactured tonnage nearly doubled (from 5,400 to 9,600 tons). Usage in developing countries reportedly increased by 20% in 2017 alone. It is significant to note that North America, at 39.7%, dominates the world market, with the United States making up 76% of usage on the continent or $2.02 billion in sales for 2017. Globally, the cumulative annual growth rate is expected to exceed 10% in 2018 and is projected to be just over $11 billion by 2022.

In 2016, 56% of treated seed sales was in insecticides, 24% in fungicides, and 20% in nematicides. Globally, 60% of seed treatment products consist of insecticides or a combination of insecticides and fungicides. Even so, globally only about 30% of total crop acreage is planted with treated seed. The major market players are certainly not new to us, but an increasing market of smaller vendors is offering customized treatments for use in local specialty markets.


So all of this sounds like good news to manufacturers of treated seed products, especially with sales on the rise. But from a pesticide safety perspective, we need to ask some questions, more importantly, the right questions, about these current trends. For all the agronomic sense that using these products makes, does increased product use necessarily mean increased exposure? Do benefits necessarily outweigh the risk of assumed increased exposure for manufacturers, applicators, producers, and/or the environment?

And then we need to ask what are the real potential health risks associated with producing and using treated seed products. These risks include skin and eye irritation, skin sensitization, and toxic effects to the central nervous system and other organs and related systems. Of these three, the one we may be least familiar with is skin sensitization, which is an allergic response to a substance that develops after repeated skin contact.

Seed treatment processes provide for some rather dubious possibilities for chemical exposure, and all are related to fine mist or dust. These pathways include inhalation, skin absorption, and ingestion. Personnel may be at risk in treating, bagging, sewing, loading, and planting operations. So where do we find basic information about how to protect ourselves and our employees? Historically, we have two sources of this kind of information:

  • Product Label
  • Safety Data Sheet (SDS) which is an excellent source of technical information regarding engineering controls, occupational exposure levels, and ventilation and monitoring requirements

The product label contains a signal word and warning language as to the toxicity of a given product and is dictated by EPA risk assessment. The label provides simplified instructions when compared to the SDS, and its intended audience is the applicator of the treated seed. Be sure to note the “Ag Use” and “Non-Ag Use” boxes on the label and remember that the “Ag Use” notice must be adhered to in row crop production for WPS and may require more PPE than the “Non-Ag Use” notice. The Non-Ag Use label information is directed at uses for which the WPS does not apply.


The preceding paragraphs are a snippet from the Certified Training Institute Pesticide Divisions new 1-hour course "Seed Treatment Product Safety".

This online course will outline the benefits and risks associated with treated seed products.

After completing this course in its entirety, participants will be able to:

  • Weigh the benefits of treated seed products against the concerns for both human and environmental safety.
  • Outline the different types of seed treatment methods, dressings and manufacturing processes.
  • Be able to describe and integrate important safety guidelines based on EPA risk assessment recommendations.
  • Describe the environmental impact of seed treatment processes, and best practices as environmental stewards.

Check out this course and many other interesting topics by visiting and choosing your state.


Pesticide Safety Training
EPA Approved Online Video Worker Protection Standard

In English & Spanish!


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