Using Pesticides in Ontario

Some of the information in this generic chapter may not apply to all crops.

Table of Contents

  1. Federal Registration of Pesticides
  2. Regulation of Pesticides in Ontario
  3. Certificaton and Licensing
  4. Pesticide Application Information
  5. Protect the Environment
  6. Waste Management (container disposal)
  7. Storing Pesticides
  8. Pesticide Spills

The information in this chapter is updated regularly. For up-to-date information, visit www.ontario.ca/usingpesticides. Some of the information in this generic chapter may not apply to all crops.


Read the latest product label before use.
Product labels may change.
Review the Grower Pesticide Safety Course Manual.
Keep detailed spray records.


Federal Registration of Pesticides

Before a pesticide can be sold or used in Ontario, it must be registered under the federal Pest Control Products Act (PCP Act) and be classified under the provincial Pesticides Act. The Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) of Health Canada registers pesticides for use in Canada following an evaluation of scientific data to ensure that the product has value. It also ensures that any human health and environmental risks associated with its proposed uses are acceptable.

The PMRA re-evaluates registered pesticides to determine whether today's health and environmental protection standards are still met when the pesticide is used according to the label. Outcomes of a re-evaluation can be:

  • no change to the registration
  • amendments to the label (e.g., changes to personal protective equipment requirements, restricted entry intervals, buffer zones)
  • modifications to existing Maximum Residue Limits (MRLs)
  • elimination or phasing-out of certain uses or formulations
  • discontinuation of the registration

The pesticide label is a legal document. Follow all label directions. Labels for all registered pesticides are under "Search Pesticide Labels" on the PMRA website. Ensure you have the most current label and are aware of any re-evaluation decisions.

Regulation of Pesticides in Ontario

The Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) ) is responsible for regulating the sale, use, transportation, storage and disposal of pesticides in Ontario. Ontario regulates pesticides by placing appropriate education, licensing and/or permit requirements on their use, under the Pesticides Act and Regulation 63/09. All pesticides must be used in accordance with requirements under the Pesticides Act and Regulation 63/09, which are available on the e-laws website or by calling ServiceOntario at 1-800-668-9938 or 416-326-5300.

Classification of Pesticides

Before a federally registered pesticide can be sold or used in Ontario, it must be classified under the provincial Pesticides Act. The Ontario pesticide classification system consists of 12 classes. Ontario's Pesticides Advisory Committee (OPAC) is responsible for assessing new pesticide products and recommending to the MOECC the classification of these products. Pesticide products are classified on the basis of their toxicity, environmental and health hazard, persistence of the active ingredient or its metabolites, concentration, usage, federal class designation (e.g., domestic, commercial, restricted) and registration status. The provincial classification system provides the basis for regulating the distribution, availability and use of pesticide products in Ontario. Once approved by the MOECC, classified products are posted on the MOECC website.


Certification and Licensing

Certified Farmers and Their Assistants

Growers must be certified through the Grower Pesticide Safety Course in order to buy and use Class 2 and 3 pesticides on their farms. They do not require this certification to buy and use Class 4, 5, 6 or 7 pesticides, however, a grower needs to provide his/her Farm Business Registration Number or a signed "Farmer Self Declaration to Enable Purchase of a Class 4 Pesticide" form to the vendor when buying Class 4 pesticides. For information about certification for growers and training for assistants to growers, visit the Ontario Pesticide Education Program website or call 1-800-652-8573.

Class 12 Requirements for Growers

Starting on July 1, 2015, new requirements will be phased in for growers who plan to purchase or plant neonicotinoid-treated corn (silage or grain) or soybean seed in Ontario. For more information on the training and reporting requirements for growers, visit the MOECC website at ontario.ca/pesticides, then click on "Neonicotinoid regulations."

Commercial Applicators (Exterminators) and Their Assisting Technicians

For more information about exterminator licensing and technician training, visit:

Exception Uses Under the Cosmetic Pesticide Ban

Pesticides listed in this publication are meant for Exception Uses (e.g. agriculture) under the Cosmetic Pesticide Ban unless the active ingredient is listed under Class 11 pesticides in Ontario Regulation 63/09.

For information about requirements under the Pesticides Act and Regulation 63/09, for golf courses and other excepted uses for turfgrass, including mandatory golf course IPM accreditation, go to ontario.ca and search for:

  • Pesticides and Golf Courses
  • Specialty Turf and Specified Sports Fields

For more information about requirements in the Pesticides Act and Regulation 63/09 for the exception regarding the use of pesticides to maintain the health of trees, go to ontario.ca and search for:

  • Tree Care Specialists

For more information about pesticide regulations, certification and licensing, see:


Pesticide Application Information

When you decide to use a pesticide, choose the most appropriate formulation and application method for your situation. Use only properly calibrated sprayer equipment. Choose less toxic and less volatile alternatives when possible. Take all possible precautions to prevent the exposure of people and non-target organisms to the pesticide. Read the most current pesticide label thoroughly before application. The label provides important information, such as:

  • directions for use (e.g., rates of application, crops/sites it can be used on, target pests, crop rotation restrictions, total number of applications, droplet size/nozzle type, application equipment, timing, appropriate weather conditions)
  • required personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • hazard symbols and warnings
  • restricted entry intervals
  • pre-harvest intervals
  • buffer zones
  • precautionary statements
  • steps to be taken in case of an accident
  • disposal

For more information on hazards, consult the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) or contact the manufacturer.


For more information on pesticide application, see:


Restricted Entry Intervals

Restricted Entry Interval (REI) is the period of time after a pesticide has been applied that agricultural workers or anyone else must not do hand labour tasks in treated areas. The REI allows the pesticide residues and vapours to dissipate to safe levels for work to be done.

An REI can range from 1 hr to several days. A pesticide label may state different REIs that are specific to a crop and post-application task (e.g., scouting, harvesting). If the REI is not stated on a label for agricultural crops, use a 12-hr REI. For golf courses and residential turf applications, the spray solution must be dry before entry can occur.

Hand labour tasks involve substantial worker contact with treated surfaces such as plants, plant parts or soil. Examples of these activities include planting, harvesting, pruning, detasseling, thinning, weeding, scouting, topping, sucker removal, mowing, roguing and packing produce into containers in the field or greenhouse. You can only do these tasks after the REI has passed. Hand labour generally does not include operating, moving or repairing irrigation or water equipment, except for hand-set irrigation.

A Certified Farmer or Licensed Commercial Applicator (i.e., a holder of the appropriate Exterminator License, such as an Agriculture Exterminator Licence or a Greenhouse/Interior Plant Exterminator Licence) may need to re-enter a treated area to do short-term tasks before the end of the REI. In these cases, the Certified Farmer or Licensed Commercial Applicator may re-enter 4 hr after the application wearing a NIOSH-approved respirator and any other protective clothing (PC) and the personal protective equipment stated on the label for mixing and loading. This Certified Farmer or Licensed Commercial Applicator (exterminator) must not be in the treated area during the REI for more than a total of 1 hr in any 24-hr period.

See Figure 1 for an example of a 24-hr REI on a pesticide label.

Figure 1. Example of a 24-hr REI on a pesticide label.

Figure 1. Example of a 24-hr REI on a pesticide label. (text version)

Certified Farmers and Licensed Commercial Applicators should plan pesticide applications around work tasks so that no one needs to re-enter treated areas before the restricted entry interval has passed.

Days to Harvest for Food Crops (Pre-Harvest, Pre-grazing and Feeding Intervals

These intervals state the minimum time that must pass between the last pesticide application and the harvesting of the crop or the grazing and cutting of the crop for livestock feed. If you harvest a crop before the pre-harvest interval (PHI) has passed, there may be pesticide residues in excess of the maximum residue limits (MRLs) set by PMRA.

"Up to the day of harvest" means the same as 0 days PHI; however, the REI may be more restrictive (e.g., a 12-hr restricted entry interval) and must be observed for harvesting that occurs on the day of pesticide application.


To avoid exceeding the maximum residue limits,
always follow the directions on the label.


Buffer Zones

Buffer zones, or no-spray areas, are areas left untreated to protect an adjacent sensitive area, such as sensitive terrestrial and aquatic habitats. Generally, a buffer zone is the downwind distance separating the point of direct pesticide application from the nearest boundary of a sensitive habitat. For soil fumigation, a buffer zone is an area established around the perimeter of each application block.

Leave a suitable buffer zone between the treatment area and adjacent sensitive area. Buffer zones may vary depending on the method of application (e.g., aerial, field boom, air blast). Check the pesticide labels for buffer zone requirements.

Sensitive terrestrial habitats include hedgerows, grasslands, shelterbelts, windbreaks, forested areas and woodlots.

Sensitive freshwater habitats include lakes, rivers, streams, creeks, reservoirs, marshes, wetlands and ponds.

Health Canada's PMRA has an online spray drift calculator that allows applicators to modify the buffer zones specified on the product label based on weather conditions, the category of the spray equipment and the droplet size. For more information, see the Buffer Zone Calculator.


Setback Distances for Water Bodies

It is an offence under the federal Fisheries Act to introduce into water any material that may be harmful to fish or fish habitat, and under the Species at Risk Act, to impact endangered or threatened fishes and fresh water mussels. To protect these waters, applicators must determine a suitable setback distance between the area to be protected and the area where pesticide treatments are planned (if the setback distance is not specified on the pesticide label). The protected area includes the water body as well as adjacent riparian (riverbank) areas that contribute to fish food and habitat.


Protect the Environment

Protect Water Sources

According to the British Crop Protection Council (BCPC), 40-70% of surface water pesticide contamination comes from mixing and filling areas.

Where possible, load or mix pesticides on impermeable surfaces located safely away from watercourses or environmentally sensitive areas. Collect drainage and run-off and dispose of it safely (Your Guide to Using Pesticides, BCPC 2007).

Clean your spray equipment away from wells, ponds, streams and ditches. Apply the diluted rinse water (usually at a ratio of 10:1) to the treatment area (crop), but do not exceed the pesticide rate recommended on the label.

Do not make a direct connection between any water supply (e.g., public supply, wells, watercourse or pond) and a spray tank. Use an anti-backflow device or intermediate system to prevent back-siphoning that could contaminate the water supply.

Immediately contain and clean up any spills to prevent contamination to water sources.

Check the pesticide label for specific instructions on protection of water sources.


For more information on protecting water sources, see ontario.ca/crops:


Bee Poisoning

Honeybees, native bee species and other pollinating insects are important pollinators for many Ontario crops. Insecticides, some of which may negatively affect bees, require careful management to achieve both pollination and insect control. Growers and licensed commercial applicators can protect bees by following these suggestions:

  • Time insecticide applications to minimize bee exposure (e.g., apply post bloom). Daytime treatments, when bees are foraging, are most hazardous. Insecticide applications in the evening are the safest, unless there is evidence of a strong temperature inversion or high humidity. Under normal circumstances, spraying after 8 PM allows the spray to dry before the bees are exposed to it the next day. Spraying during early morning is the next best time, when fewer bees are foraging, but pesticide residues may still be present. Spraying should be completed well before 7 AM. While honeybees and most other pollinating insects do not usually forage at temperatures below 13°C, bumblebees do. If you plan to spray in the morning, contact beekeepers who have bees within 5 km of your crop and spray site. The beekeepers may then have the option of taking any possible protective action.
  • Do not apply insecticides while fruit trees are in bloom. The Bees Act makes it an offence to do so in Ontario. Do not spray any flowering crop on which bees are foraging.
  • To prevent drift toward nearby hives, do not apply insecticides on windy days or when there is evidence of a strong temperature inversion.
  • Bees and other pollinators may be poisoned by visiting flowering weeds, trees and cover crops that have come into contact with an insecticide via spray drift or drift of insecticide-contaminated dust during planting. Avoid spray drift to flowering weeds that are adjacent to or within the target field. Where possible, mow down flowering cover crops or flowering weeds in and bordering target fields prior to spraying to help safeguard the bees. Control dandelions and other flowering weeds within fields before spraying or planting seeds treated with an insecticide. Take measures to reduce movement of dust from insecticide seed treatments to flowering trees, weeds and water sources that are in or adjacent to the target field. For more information on reducing dust movement, see PMRA's Pollinator Protection and Responsible Use of Treated Seed - Best Management Practices
  • Systemic insecticides may also pose a high risk to bees and other insect pollinators. Bees can be exposed to insecticide residues in or on flowers, leaves, pollen, nectar and/or surface water. Do not apply insecticide or allow it to drift onto blooming crops or off-site habitat if bees are foraging in or adjacent to the treatment area.
  • Beekeepers should remove honeybee colonies as soon as pollination is complete in the crop and before any insecticides are applied post bloom. If the colonies cannot be removed in time, beekeepers can place burlap or cloth soaked in water at the entrance of the hive to disrupt the flight of the bees for up to 12 hr and provide more time for spray to dry. To help prevent overheating of the hive during this time, keep an opening of 2.5 cm on each side of the hive entrance so bees can still get out and ventilate the hive. Also, the water on the burlap or cloth will help cool the colony.
  • If there is a risk of honeybee poisoning, try to choose an insecticide that is not highly toxic to bees. When there is a choice, choose a product formulation that is less hazardous to bees.
  • Always read the most current label for guidance.
  • o Before applying a pesticide or planting with insecticide-treated seed, advise local beekeepers so they can move colonies out of the danger area, if this is an option.

Manage Drift

Pesticide drift is the aerial movement and unintentional deposit of pesticide outside the target area. Drift results in wasted product and may compromise crop protection and also may adversely affect nearby sensitive environmental areas, crops and wildlife. The following strategies can help reduce the risk of pesticide drift:

  • Do not spray when wind speeds are high or gusty. These conditions increase the potential for spray and vapour drift. Check pesticide labels for allowable wind speeds for spraying. However, not all labels provide this specific information.
  • Constantly monitor wind conditions during spraying using a good-quality wind meter. Record the wind speed and direction. As wind conditions change, you may need to make adjustments to further reduce the drift potential, such as increasing water volume, minimizing nozzle-to-target distance, changing nozzle technology, changing fields because of surrounding influences or stopping spraying until conditions improve.
  • Do not spray during periods of dead calm. Periods of dead calm may occur in early morning or late evening, at which time the temperature is usually cooler and the relative humidity is typically higher, which can result in the spray droplets remaining aloft, like fog. When the wind picks up, these spray droplets can move away from the target area, possibly causing injury to adjacent non-target areas. Off-target drift in calm conditions can occur hours after the spray event was completed.

Temperature inversions create problems for spray applicators because pesticide spray can:

    • stay concentrated for long periods over the target
    • move with the cool air over considerable distances when the breeze picks up
    • move down slopes and concentrate in low-lying regions
    • drift unpredictably as the inversion dissipates during the morning

Field air temperatures are often very different from local or regional forecasts, so the most reliable method of detecting inversion conditions is to measure temperatures at, and several metres above, the ground. Spray applicators can recognize a temperature inversion when:

      • there is a big difference between the daytime and nighttime temperatures
      • early evening and nighttime wind speeds are considerably less than during the day
      • sounds seem to carry further
      • odours seem more intense
      • daytime cumulus clouds collapse toward evening
      • overnight cloud cover is 25% or less
      • mist, fog, dew or frost occur
      • smoke or dust hangs in the air and/or moves laterally in a sheet.

Temperature inversions start to form 3 hr prior to sunset, become stronger as the sun sets and continue until sunrise when the surface warms and air mixing begins. If you suspect there's an inversion, don't spray. Often, warnings for the risk of inversions are stated right on the product label.

  • Use the sprayer output specified on the pesticide label.
  • Use a nozzle that will produce the droplet size specified on the pesticide label or delivers droplets appropriate for the job. Nozzles that produce fine droplets are rarely, if ever, required.
  • Where practical, use air induction/venturi nozzles, which significantly reduce drift compared to conventional nozzles.
  • Check the height of the boom to the target or distance from airblast boom to the target. Minimize the distance as much as possible while still maintaining spray uniformity.
  • Establish buffer zones for the protection of adjacent sensitive areas. Some pesticide labels will state buffer zone setbacks; follow these carefully.
  • Use spray plume protection where practical or available (hoods, shrouds, screens or air curtains).
  • Use drift-reducing adjuvants in the spray tank as directed on the label. Mechanical or hydraulic agitations have been shown to reduce the effectiveness of certain drift-reducing adjuvants. Be aware that certain combinations of anti-drift adjuvants and air-induction/venturi nozzles have been shown to increase the incidence of fine droplets that will drift.
  • When possible, use non-volatile pesticide formulations or products.

For more information about spray drift, see:


Waste Management (container disposal

Empty Pesticide Containers up to 23 L

Never re-use empty containers.

The Ontario Empty Pesticide Container Recycling Program, an industry-led program, is available free of charge to growers and commercial applicators. Through this program, you can return triple-rinsed or pressure-rinsed plastic pesticide and fertilizer containers up to 23 L to container collection depots located throughout the province. Remove the cap and booklet from the pesticide container before recycling. To locate the closest container collection depot, visit t CleanFARMS, call your local dealer, or contact Clean FARMS at 416-622-4460 (toll-free at 877-622-4460) or info@cleanfarms.ca.

Empty Pesticide Containers Greater than 23 L

Growers and commercial applicators should return pesticide containers that are greater than 23 L in size to the point of sale or to the manufacturer for disposal. Contact your local dealer for details on disposal of these containers, or contact CleanFARMS at 416-622-4460 (toll-free at 877-622-4460) or info@cleanfarms.ca.

Empty Seed and Pesticide Bags

Growers can return their empty seed and pesticide bags to select retail locations. Contact your local dealer for details on disposal of these empty seed and pesticide bags, or contact CleanFARMS at 416-622-4460 (toll-free at 877-622-4460) or info@cleanfarms.ca.

Surplus Spray Mix

The best approach is to plan the spray job accurately to avoid creating a surplus.

When this is unavoidable, dispose of excess spray mix by spraying it on other crops that require an application of this pesticide. Before spraying, check the label to make sure the pesticide is registered for use on that other crop.

If you cannot find another allowable crop to spray, then dilute the remaining spray mix by adding 10 parts of water for each 1 part of spray mix. The diluted solution can be safely applied to the original treated area as long as you do not exceed the pesticide rate recommended on the label. Be sure to check the label for any restrictions about crop rotation, days to harvest or disposal of surplus spray mix.

Never re-spray the treated field with undiluted spray mix. Spraying an area twice at the same pesticide rate will double the labeled pesticide rate. This may cause illegal pesticide residues in the harvested crop or harmful residues in the soil that can cause crop damage.

Surplus Pesticides Disposal

Be sure to safely dispose of pesticides that you do not need or cannot use. Options for proper disposal include:

  • Contact the supplier. It is sometimes possible to return unused pesticide if it is still in its original, unopened container.
  • Hire a waste hauler who is licensed under Part V of the Environmental Protection Act to carry hazardous wastes. Look in the Yellow Pages of your telephone directory under Liquid Waste Removal.
  • CleanFARMS operates a free Obsolete Pesticide Collection Program throughout the province every three years. To locate the closest collection point and date, visit the CleanFARMS website, contact CleanFARMS at 416-622-4460 (toll free at 877-622-4460) or info@cleanfarms.ca or contact your local dealer for program details.
  • Contact your municipality to see if any waste collection days are scheduled and verify whether quantities of agricultural pesticides will be accepted.

Storing Pesticides

Ontario's Pesticides Act and Regulation 63/09 provide details on storage requirements for pesticide storage facilities. As shown in Table 8-1, the storage requirements that must be followed are dependent on which classes of pesticides you store.

Table 1-1. Requirements for Pesticide Storage Facilities
Storage requirements Pesticide Classes
Class 2 Class 3 Class 4,5,6 & 7
No contact with food or drink X X X
Not an impairment to health and safety X X X
Clean and orderly X X X
Warning sign G posted* X X X
Emergency telephone numbers posted** X X X
Vented to outside X X  
Limited access (locked) X X  
No floor drain X X  
Respiratory protection and protective clothing kept readily available X X  
Area used primarily for pesticides X    

Note: Sufficient precautions are needed in your storage area to prevent the pesticide from entering the natural environment. Ensure your floor drain does not enter the natural environment.

* See ontario.ca for requirements for warning sign G. (Search for sample warning signs for pesticide use). These signs can be purchased from your pesticide dealer/vendor.
** Emergency contact numbers must include telephone numbers for the local fire department, hospital and poison control centre. The number for the MOECC Spills Action Centre (1-800-268-6060) should also be readily available.


For more information about storing pesticides, see:

Pesticide Spills

If a pesticide spill causes, or is likely to cause, an adverse effect that is greater than that which would result from the proper use of the pesticide, you must notify the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change Spills Action Centre at 1-800-268-6060 (24 hr a day, 7 days a week) and your municipality.

A spill is defined as a discharge of pollutant that is abnormal in quality or quantity, from or out of a structure, vehicle or other container into the environment. An incident such as an overturned pesticide sprayer that results in the loss of the spray solution to the environment is an example of a spill. A pesticide container that ruptures and leaks its contents is another example of a spill. The discharge or spraying of a pesticide in an unapproved area is also considered a spill.

Before you begin to clean up a spill of any nature, remember to protect yourself against pesticide exposure. Wear the proper protective clothing and personal protective equipment. If the spill occurs inside an enclosed area (e.g., a pesticide storage area or a vehicle during transport), ventilate the area first. Once you have protected yourself and removed other persons or animals from the spill site, take additional measures to stop the spill at the source and prevent it from spreading and/or contaminating watercourses. Specific precautions, emergency contact information and first aid procedures may be found on the label.

For minor spills, it may be possible to rectify the problem:

  • For a liquid spill - Cover the spill with a thick layer of absorbent material such as kitty litter, vermiculite or dry soil. Sweep or shovel the material into a waste drum and dispose of the contents as you would a hazardous waste.
  • For a dust, granular or powder spill - Sweep or shovel the material into a waste drum and dispose of the contents as you would a hazardous waste.

For major spills, it is essential to stop the spill from spreading.

The clean-up guidelines above may not be appropriate for all spill situations. Once you have contained the spill, follow directions from the manufacturer and regulatory authorities on cleaning the contaminated area.

Some of the information contained in this chapter is not authoritative. It is derived from the Pesticides Act, Ontario Regulation 63/09 and the federal Pest Control Products Act, Fisheries Act and Species at Risk Act and is for informational purposes only. Efforts have been made to make it as accurate as possible, but in the event of a conflict, inconsistency or error, the requirements set out in the referenced legislation take precedence. For specific legal details, please visit ontario.ca/laws (for Ontario legislation) and www.laws.justice.gc.ca (for federal legislation) and consult your lawyer if you have questions about your legal obligations.


For information on preventing spills, see:


For pesticide poisonings and pesticide injuries, call:

Poison Information Centre: 1-800-268-9017
(TTY) 1-877-750-2233


For more information:
Toll Free: 1-877-424-1300
E-mail: ag.info.omafra@ontario.ca


Author: OMAFRA Staff
Creation Date: 2 May 2011
Last Reviewed: 11 April 2016