Agricultural chemicals

This section covers:

For information about how to present veterinary medicines, which follow the same style rules as human medicines, see Medicine names.

Australian conventions and resources

 The Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) has a database of agricultural and veterinary chemicals registered for use in Australia.

The APVMA also provides useful information about labelling of pesticides.


In the past, fertilisers were described using a wide variety of unrelated product names, such as ‘Super Potash 3 & 1’, ‘Starter 15’ and ‘Legume Special’. Application rates were given as the amount of the product (eg 375 kg/ha of 3 & 1). These names did not give any information about the amounts of nutrients (eg nitrogen, potassium) being applied. In recent years, fertiliser names have been changed to convey their nutrient concentrations. Application rates are usually given as the amount of a specific nutrient per hectare (eg 50 kg P/ha) and may or may not include the amount of the actual fertiliser product.

The United Kingdom, and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations refer to concentrations of fertiliser components in terms of the oxide form: phosphate (P2O5), potash (K2O), sulfur trioxide (SO3), magnesium oxide or magnesia (MgO) and sodium oxide (Na2O). In Australia, however, these components are referred to as elements (eg N, P, K, S). Set the capital letter abbreviations solid and without punctuation:

NP fertilisers were used …     The NPK ratio in garden fertilisers is …

The nutrient concentrations of elements are listed in the order N, P, K, S. They can be separated by either hyphens or colons (hyphens are preferable for readability). For example, a fertiliser containing 12% nitrogen, 32% phosphorus and 16% potassium can be written as:

NPK 12-32-16

For solid fertilisers, concentrations are usually stated either on a weight-for-weight basis (eg 35% wt/wt or 35 g/kg) or, for liquid fertilisers, on a weight-for-volume basis (eg 3.5% wt/vol or 35 g/L).

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Pesticides and herbicides

Only proprietary names should have an initial capital:

Roundup   but   glyphosate

For organophosphorus pesticides, note the spelling of phosphorus (not phosphorous). Use the term organophosphorus only as an adjective. The equivalent noun is organophosphate:

The organophosphorus pesticides are a large group of pesticides, including …   but   The organophosphate parathion is one of a group of …

For organochlorine pesticides, there is no such distinction:

The organochlorine pesticides are a large group of pesticides, including …     The organochlorine dieldrin is one of a group of …

For the organochlorine insecticides DDT and DDE, the common chemical names should be spelt out in full at the first mention:

dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT)      dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene (DDE)

If you need to identify the isomers of these compounds, include the isomeric suffixes p,p'- or o,p'-:

p,p'-DDT     o,p'-DDT

The formal (International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry) names are:

  • DDT – 1,1,1-trichloro-2,2-di(4-chlorophenyl)ethane
  • DDE – 1,1-bis-(4-chlorophenyl)-2,2-dichloroethene.

For the chlorophenoxy herbicides, the full names should also be given at first use:

2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D)

2,4,5-trichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4,5-T)

For further details on presentation of chemical compound names, see Chemical compounds.

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