Limiting Contamination from Pesticide Spills, Splashes and Rinses
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
Pesticides are commonly used on most traditional farms around the world to control harmful insects and weeds. While farmers take great care in using pesticides, runoff from mixing and rinsing locations has become an area of environmental focus as up to 80 percent of contaminants found in water bodies trace back to on-farm activities. Europe has been using a system called a biobed to capture and degrade the unintentional release of pesticides into the environment.
But what about Canada? Larry Braul, Water Quality Engineer, AAFC Regina (now retired), and Dr. Claudia Sheedy, Research Scientist, AAFC Lethbridge, are co-leading a project to develop a biobed model to support Canadian farmers.
Essentially organic filters for pesticide disposal, biobeds are relatively inexpensive and easy to use and significantly speed up the pesticides' natural breakdown processes. The contained biobed uses a mixture of topsoil, compost and straw to absorb and then degrade pesticides by providing an ideal habitat for microbes which break down the pesticides to the point where they pose no further threat to the environment.
The Canadian Experience
Braul and Sheedy have found that while what has been successful in Europe cannot be directly transferred to Canada, we can certainly learn from Europe's experience to find the ideal solution for Canadian farmers.
"We can take a lot from the existing models in Europe, but we have to modify them for our climate. Things like torrential rainfalls and freezing temperatures affect the performance of the microbes in the beds, so we are looking at the best way to deal with those factors unique to our geography."– Larry Braul, Water Quality Engineer
In its first year, Braul and Sheedy monitored the effluent from two existing beds. They probed one bed located in Outlook, SK and found that in May, it was still frozen at eight centimetres down. Given Canada's cold climate, Braul and Sheedy are investigating the ideal solution to keep the beds warm and the microbe population thriving. They will be comparing the costs and efficiencies of adding heat using electrical and solar energy, as well as other heating methods.
"Our cold climate will have an enormous impact on the function of the biobed. A raise in temperature of ten degrees can double the activity of microbes, so it's important for us to understand the complete picture," said Braul.
The team also wants to use ever improving technology to measure and learn more about the relationship between microbes and pesticide degradation.
"The analytical instruments we work with nowadays are very sensitive, they can detect even minute traces of pesticide residue from the test bed effluent. Pesticide data will allow us to learn more about how the biobed works and the relationship between microbes and pesticide degradation," said Sheedy.
Going forward, research will focus on identifying factors affecting pesticide degradation in biobeds and the optimal biomix.
- A biobed, used to absorb and degrade pesticides from sprayer rinsate, can be a very effective tool for reducing a significant source of on-farm pesticide contamination.
- Research conducted at AAFC since 2008 demonstrates that a biobed system based on a standard European design has the potential to provide effective and low cost management of sprayer tank rinsate containing pesticides commonly used in Canadian crop production.
- Biobeds are seen as an ideal solution for pesticide rinsate disposal as they are relatively inexpensive and easy to use and significantly speed up the pesticides' natural breakdown processes.
- A robust biobed design for managing pesticide rinsate under Canadian conditions: construction, operation and maintenance manual is available from Government of Canada Publications.
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