My dad has been a certified pesticide applicator now for many years. Until this year, he was the only one we had on the farm and he handles all of the spraying and applications. But that’s all going to change this year, because we’re adding two more certified applicators to the farm – my brothers.
My youngest brother is now certified for commercial (for his job) and private application, and the older of the two is certified for private application.
For all the talk about pesticides and chemicals around here, I realized that I have never really explained this process and what it entails. Quite frankly, that’s kind of crazy because certification is an important piece to the regulatory system put in place by the EPA. It should also be a relief to those concerned about pesticide use on farms – our applicators are trained and certified.
What is the National Pesticide Applicator Certification?
To set the scene, the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) is the legislation that was passed by Congress back in 1972 (and amended several times since) that creates the regulatory framework for the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) rules and regulation regarding pesticides. In general, FIFRA allows the EPA to set certain standards and guidelines that must be followed when applying any regulated pesticide. The label is the law. Applicators must follow the specifications set forth on the specific label for the pesticide being used. Any deviation from the specifications on the label is illegal.
FIFRA also establishes the certification program known as the National Pesticide Applicator Certification. By completing the program’s requirements, individuals can become certified to mix, load, or apply what are known as “restricted use” pesticides. The certification is required to purchase the pesticides. Each state is responsible for handling the certification program in its own state and may also have stricter regulations on pesticides than the EPA. Usually, the state certification program is done with a cooperative agreement between the state agency and the EPA.
There are also different levels of qualification, the main difference being that some certifications are private and some are commercial. Private applicators may only spray fields that are either on property they own, or property that they are renting. Practically speaking, that means that private applicators are not able to do “side jobs” for neighbors and friends.
How Do Farmers Get One?
To become a certified applicator, individuals “must exhibit a broad-based knowledge of and competency in pesticide use and handling.” (Source: NPAC Core Manual) In Michigan, this means taking the MDARD Core Pesticide Applicators Certification exam. For private applicators, that means taking a test over material covering how to properly read labels, personal protection equipment, environmental factors, and communicating with the public about pesticides. For commercial applicators, there is additional testing depending on the type of applications for which certification is sought. For example, the additional tests covers specific topics like vegetables, row crops, and fumigation.
You can see the full range of materials tested on, by checking out the Core Manual.
Private applicators, which would cover most farmers, must retake the exam every 3 years or, in some states, may qualify for renewal based on educational credits.
So, shall we try a sample question?
The name “VIP No Pest 75WP” on a pest label indicates:
A. The chemical name and 75 percent inert ingredients formulated as a wettable powder.
B. The brand name and 25% active ingredients, formulated as a wettable powder.
C. The brand name and 75% active ingredients, formulated as a wettable powder.
D. The chemical name and 25% active ingredients, formulated as a wettable powder.
Answer: C. (Source: NPAC Core Manual)
Why Does This Matter?
Pesticides are serious chemicals, no one will deny that fact. They are also necessary and allow us to protect our crops, which in turn, increases yields. In other words, pesticides are one of the reasons we can adequately supply the human population with food.
But these are still serious chemicals. That’s why, as a society, we have determined there needs to be oversight and regulation on their use. As explained, the FIFRA and the EPA have developed the regulatory framework that allows us to use these chemicals safely. Think about it – it would be rather pointless to compile data and research, slap it on the label, and tell people to follow it if we had no way of enforcing it. Requiring pesticide applicators to become certified is a way to make sure those rules and regulations are followed and that the applicators are kept safe.
It also keeps our food supply safe. By requiring certification, we ensure applicators are familiar with the proper procedures for application and use of pesticides. This includes knowing the appropriate times to use the pesticides so that the food we eat does not contain harmful levels of residue.
But wait, I can buy Round-Up at the store without certification?
Yes, you can.
But the Round-Up and other chemicals that the general public can purchase at their local hardware store is not the same as what a certified applicator would purchase at a chemical supplier. When used according to label, Round-Up is actually very diluted with water. (Remember – on average, only a pop can of Round-Up is applied to an acre.) Applicators are able to buy the concentrated version of Round-Up and dilute it themselves. Members of the general public are purchasing a very diluted solution.