Pesticides and Formulation Technology

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There is a seemingly endless variety of pesticide products sold in the urban and agricultural marketplace. Casual observation in any hardware store or lawn and garden center will reveal that variations extend even to products that are manufactured by the same chemical company and contain the same ingredients. Manufacturers often produce various forms of a pesticide to meet different pest control needs. For example, an insecticide may be applied as a liquid to control adult Japanese beetles on rose bushes and as a solid material for suppressing the larval (grub) stage of that insect in turf. Applying the insecticide as a liquid spray permits contact with the adult beetle, while the solid form can be watered into the root zone of the lawn where the grubs live. A pesticide product consists of two parts: active and inert ingredients. Active ingredients are chemicals which actually control the pest. Inert ingredients are primarily solvents and carriers that help deliver the active ingredients to the target pest; they serve to enhance the utility of the product.

Inert ingredients may be liquids into which the active ingredient is dissolved, chemicals that keep the product from separating or settling, and even compounds that help secure the pesticide to its target after application. The combination of an active ingredient with compatible inert ingredients is referred to as a formulation. Pesticides are formulated for a number of different reasons. A pesticide active ingredient in a relatively pure form, ready for manufacturers’ use, rarely is suitable for field application. An active ingredient usually must be formulated in a manner that

  • Increases pesticide effectiveness in the field;
  • Improves safety features;
  • Enhances handling qualities.

The formulation gives the product its unique physical form and specific characteristics, enabling it to fill a market niche. There are approximately 900 pesticide active ingredients formulated into 20,000 pesticide products sold and used in the United States today. For most practical purposes, the terms formulation and product can be used interchangeably.

Andrew Martin
Fred Whitford
Tom Jordan
Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service