Monday, February 8, 2016

Herbicide Carryover

I've been using some imported grass hay to feed my sheep when I'm away from home for a few days. For security and safety reasons, they go into the secure inner dry lot for the duration. The hay looks absolutely gorgeous....too gorgeous. It made me a bit suspicious. I'm wondering if a broadleaf herbicide has been used on the hay field. Some of those herbicides, notably Grazon, persist in the hay. What's worse, it also passes in the animals' manure and can persist for 2-3 years in the soil or manure. If it gets near my garden, the soil is unusable for food production for years. 

So I can do two things to protect my gardens. 
1) don't use a grass hay. Use only alfalfa. 
2) test the hay for Grazon contamination. 
3) stop using the manure (this ain't gonna happen!)

I found that using alfalfa hay for the sheep to be a problem. Even with feeders, the sheep tend to waste a lot of hay. At $40 a bale, losing half is a serious loss. Since sheep need long fibers, using pellets is not a healthy option. I tried cubes for the sheep once, but had two develop choke on it. So long stemmed hay it is. 

When I use grass hay, the sheep usually have very little to no waste. Much more economical. But there's the danger of Grazon. I get around the danger by testing each bale of hay. It takes a couple of weeks but I believe it's worth it. It just means that I have to store the hay a few  weeks before using it, waiting for the test results. 

How I test: 

In an area where I wouldn't care about Grazon contamination....actually the edge of my driveway.... I fill at least 6 pots with soil. Each pot is then seeded with 6 bean seeds. 

(Above, I'm going to use these sprouting bean plants that I planted for a germination test.)

Next, I fill half of a 5 gallon bucket or two with the hay to be tested.

Then I  fill the bucket with water, and allow it to soak overnight (I don't fish out the hay but let it stay there until all the water is used up, then make another bucketful).

The hay floats to the top, so I push it down a couple of times to mix it well with the water.

The water turns brown, but that's ok. I now use this test water to water 3 of the pots. I use clean water to water the other 3 pots. And I take care to keep the 3 and 3 pots separate so that any water draining from the test 3 cannot reach the non-test 3. Now it's a case of waiting for the beans to grow. Over the next 3-4 weeks I'll observe the bean plants. If there is leaf curling or stunting in the 3 test pots and normal plants in the 3 non-test pots, then the hay is contaminated. If all the pots are normal, then the hay is safe to use. 

So far I've had clean hay. No Grazon. Great! But I can't assume that will continue to be the case. The farmers are probably using a herbacide, but at least it isn't residual. And since I can't guarantee that the hay is coming from the same source every time, I need to test every bale of hay. 

What would I do if the hay proved positive for Grazon? I surely would not throw it away. That hay represents a chunk of money. I would feed the hay to the sheep but only in the dry lot paddock where the donkey/horse could not access the hay nor the little grass that grows in that paddock. I do use the equine manure in the gardens and wish to keep it free of Grazon. I would just be mindful not to harvest any sheep manure. 

I would also register a complaint with the feed store. That may not make a difference, but possibly it would. Buying organic certified hay is another option, but a very expensive one I don't wish to do. And heck, I don't even know if organic hay is available on the island. I can't see much of a demand for it here. 

So what herbacides do I need to watch out for? 
  • Picloram - sold as Tordon, Access, Surmount, Grazon, and Pathway.
  • Clopyralid - sold as Curtail, Confront, Clopyr AG, Lontrel, Stinger, Millennium Ultra, Millenium Ultra Plus, Reclaim, Redeem, Transline.
  • Aminopyralid - sold as Milestone, Forefront, Pharaoh, Banish
If I accidently contaminated a garden area, I could still grow things in the grass family. Corn. Wheat. Barley. Rice. Probably sorghum, too. I'd just have to wait 2-3 years for the contamination to dissipate in order to grow broadleaf veggies, which by the way, is just about everything else. 


  1. So they don't use herbicide on alfalfa? Because alfalfa is a broad leaf? What do they use on alfalfa? In the alfalfa fields around Tracy CA where we lived we got buzzed by crop dusters spraying something. I assume fertilizer or some kind of -cide. What about alfalfa grass mix? Would that have -cide in it? We sometimes use that for our horses. You've got me thinking. Great blog btw. I really enjoy it.

    1. Thanks because on our new place I intend to compost all of our horse manure.

  2. If only one or two of the big hay producers there could persuade their elected representatives to introduce fast-track legislation to require ALL locally-grown ag products to have open labeling for all herbicide/pesticide applied to the crop, including soil pre-treatment (such as fumigants like bromide).

  3. Barry, I truly wish there was transparency when it came to labeling, for both human and animal food. But there is so much icky stuff used on food nowadays, that the public might go lynch the food industry if the info was divulged. Plus millions of lawsuits could follow (claims for cancer, behavioral and learning disorders, birth defects, etc), probably collapsing the whole industry. As big farmers bailed out due to the liability.....I suspect insurance companies would stop writing product liability policies.... food prices would soar, availability plummet. The country would start importing more foreign food, which already has very, very little inspection for cleanliness and contamination inspection. Add on top of that the fact that there are thousands of chemicals being used that the government hasn't gotten to testing for safety yet. The whole affair is a nightmare.

    These residual herbicides are considered "safe". My was tobacco. I'm not sure how much of residual herbicides are being used of human foods, though at least one is approved for a large number of food crops. So using humanure isn't necessarily safe either!

    Since organic gardeners often use manures, it is their gardens that are contaminated. Really sad.

    Tres, herbicides are used on alfalfa too. Just not these residual ones.

    1. Thank because on our new place I intend to compost all of our horse manure