What Does It Take to Get a Pesticide License?

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One of the many hats I get to wear with North Carolina Cooperative Extension is serving as Pesticide Coordinator for Robeson County. As such, I receive many phone calls inquiring about how to get a pesticide license. Unfortunately, I get to reply with the dreaded response, “Well, it depends.”  Hopefully, I can help shed some light for those who want to know just what it takes to get a pesticide license.

The easy answer to that question is you must pass a state-approved exam administered by the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Pesticide Section. This agency has regulatory authority to administer and regulate pesticide licensing in North Carolina, following both federal and state laws. The need for a pesticide license boils down to two scenarios: you need to apply restricted-use pesticides to an agricultural commodity, or you need to apply either a general-use or restricted-use pesticide to someone else’s property for compensation.

The tricky part when asked this question relates to proper licensing. In general, there are two types of certified applicators: private and commercial applicators. Private applicators are individuals in scenario one who need to apply or supervise the application of restricted-use pesticides on land owned or rented for the production of an agricultural commodity to include farm, nursery, and greenhouse production. Private applicators must be at least 16 years of age and must pass a 50-question, multiple choice exam with the option to add a soil fumigation subcategory (if needed) to their certification. This $10 certification is good for a three-year period and can be renewed if four hours of continuing education credits are earned by September 30 of the third year, or by retaking the exam.

Commercial applicators are individuals who fall into scenario two to include any commercial ground applicator, public operator (federal, state, city, town, or public utility employee), pesticide dealer, pesticide consultant, or aerial applicator. Commercial applicators must be at least 18 years of age and must pass a 100-question core exam. In addition, they must pass any of the specific subcategory exams, which are normally 50 questions. Subcategories that can be added to a license include aquatic, public health, dealer, forestry, right-of-way, regulatory, ag pest – animal, ornamental and turf, seed treatment, demonstration and research, ag pest – plant, aerial, fumigation, and wood treatment. This certification is good for a five-year period and can be renewed if required, category-specific continuing education credits are met by June 30 of the fifth year, or by retaking the exams. Commercial applicators annual renewal is $75. Public operator’s license currently is free.

In-person pesticide exams are available on a limited basis for those who register in advance. Exam fees apply to all categories, and only checks and money orders are accepted at testing sites. Testers must bring their own pencils and calculators (phones are not allowed). Government-issued photo identification, such as a driver’s license, must be shown at the time of the exam. Due to limited seating capacity at exams, those registered who are unable to attend must notify the Pesticide Section at least 48 hours in advance or you will not be eligible to attend another exam for 60 days. Online exam options are also available. Four pesticide exams are now available in Spanish: Private Applicator, Core, Ornamental and Turf, and Right of Way. All exams begin at 1 p.m. unless otherwise noted, with check-in beginning 30 minutes prior. The next local exam opportunity will be November 16 at the Southeastern NC Agricultural Events Center, located at 1027 US Hwy 74 in Lumberton. Study manuals and pesticide schools are available to assist with exam preparation.

For more information on pesticide licensing and exams, check our information portal, or contact Mac Malloy, Extension Field Crop Agent with North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Robeson County Center, at 671-3276, by email at Mac_Malloy@ncsu.edu, or visit our website.