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Proper use

Those who use plant protection products must observe certain rules to ensure that the required effect can be achieved from the products, that the health of consumers and residents is not endangered, and that the impact on the environment is acceptable.

Plant Protection Act regulations

The Plant Protection Act (PflSchG) includes a series of provisions which apply consistently to all plant protection products:

  • Plant protection products may only be used if they are authorised (exceptions include deadlines for using up stocks of products whose authorisation expires on a particular date).
  • The product may only be used for authorised or approved fields of use, which means for specific crops and harmful organisms or for a specific use.
  • In home gardening, only products which are labelled as registered for this area of use may be applied.
  • Farm holders have to keep records of the plant protection products they use.
  • Plant protection products may only be used outdoors on areas which are used for agricultural, forestry or horticultural purposes. For other kinds of areas such as streets, field boundaries, roadsides, embankments, business premises, driveways and parking areas, a certificate of exemption is necessary which is issued by the competent authorities in the German Federal States. Uniform criteria for the approval of such applications according to Article 12 (2) PflSchG are laid down in a guidance of the Federal States.
  • Plant protection products may only be used directly in or next to water with a certificate of exemption.

Any breach of these regulations constitutes an administrative offence and can be punished with a fine.

Restrictions, directions for use, pre-harvest intervals

As part of authorisation, the BVL specifies restrictions and directions for use for the individual products and decides on the pre-harvest interval between the last application and harvesting. These regulations must be printed on the packaging by the manufacturer. The user should therefore read the label and the instructions for use carefully; where all the necessary information is available for using the product safely.

Minimum buffer zones for protecting residents and bystanders

Particular care must be taken to protect bystandes in the vicinity of the treated area when plant protection products are applied. Bystanders are e.g. persons who live in the neighbourhood (residents) and persons who are temporarily present in the vicinity of the treated area (casual bystanders). The German Plant Protection Act prohibits applications if the operator has to expect harmful health effects, or if a possible risk cannot be sufficiently evaluated. However, the plant protection act does not contain any precise stipulations on minimum buffer zones in terms of meters.

Based on exposure models published in a guidance by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the BVL states the minimum buffer zones which have to be kept to:

  • areas used by the general public (Article 17 PflSchG)
  • residential areas
  • private garden lots
  • casual bystanders, using e.g. adjacent roads or paths.

According to this, in case of spraying field crops the minimum buffer zone is 2 m, in case of spraying tall growing crops 5 m. The BVL notification is available on the right.

The risk for persons on the above mentioned areas cannot be sufficiently evaluated with the internationally agreed exposure models if smaller buffer zones are used. Should wider buffer zones be required for certain plant protection products as a consequence of the risk evaluation, the BVL stipulates corresponding conditions of application when authorising these products.

Using boom-end nozzles

Plant protection products may, in principle, be applied in outdoor areas only if such land is used for agricultural, forestry or horticultural purposes. The above mentioned provision is infringed if the nozzles located at the end of the boom pass over the crops in such a way that their spray patterns reach the soil or the vegetation growing beside the crops to be treated. This is punishable as an administrative offence. The BVL has drawn attention to this fact in a notice - available on the right of this page.

By replacing the standard nozzle at the end of the boom by a suitable boom-end nozzle, a simultaneous treatment of adjacent areas can be avoided without reducing the level of protection for crops at the edge of a field. The register of “Loss Reducing Equipment”, published by the Julius Kühn Institute (JKI), shows suitable combinations of nozzles and boom-end nozzles which can be used together, reducing drift by at least 50%.

The objective of keeping non-target areas unsprayed can also be achieved by other means, e.g. by switching off the boom-end nozzle(s). However, in order to ensure an equal distribution of the plant protection product on the area to be treated, it is recommended to use boom-end nozzles which are acknowledged and listed in the register. This will also limit the risk of development of resistance.

Good professional practice

The Plant Protection Act demands that plant protection products are used in accordance with good professional practice. This includes, for example, limiting the use of plant protection products to the minimum amount considered necessary, selecting products which are most suitable for the respective situation, using suitable and reliable equipment and disposing of remaining spray and rinsing fluid properly.

The Bundesministerium für Ernährung und Landwirtschaft (BMEL) has summarised the principles of good professional practice in a publication. Further advice for those who use plant protection products near residential areas, gardens or roads and paths has been published in a leaflet by the BMEL. Both publications are available via the links on the right of this page (in German).


Advice and training is offered by the official plant protection service of the German Federal States. Associations and societies also provide information on how to use plant protection products wisely and correctly. The aid service provides additional information material, e.g. a leaflet for correct filling and cleaning of plant protection application equipment.

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© 2019 Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety