Pesticides And Fertilizers: Farmer Certification Process

When the need arises to apply chemicals to crops in the United States, not just anyone can do it. Pesticides, which include insecticides and herbicides, have both federal and local regulations governing private applicators.

Certifying agencies differ across the country, and the certification process differs from state to state, but all fall under the regulation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Federal law requires anyone applying or administering restricted use pesticides to be certified by the EPA. These chemicals include pesticides not available to the general public and present environmental risks if applied improperly.

“The certification process ensures an applicator has the necessary job knowledge and skills to protect himself and the environment,” said Leo Reed, manager of certification and licensing for the Office of Indiana State Chemist, the licensing agency in the state of Indiana.

Lack of compliance could result in warnings or civil penalties, Reed said.

Indiana uses a closed book, proctored exam for initial certification. Farmers have the opportunity to attend recertification classes to refresh themselves on emerging issues and technology.

In August 2015, EPA proposed new certification standards to increase safety that include:

  • Stronger competency standards
  • Certification categories for application methods
  • Mandatory three-year renewal
  • Required training for non-certified applicators
  • Applicators being at least 18 years old

Kansas farmer and rancher Douglas Patterson said the proposed changes are more strenuous, but he expects minimal implications for his farm.

“Some equipment might have to be modified for handling and disposal of containers,” he said.

Staying aware of such changes is challenging, but he relies on emails from agricultural publications and governing agencies for updates.

Although Patterson’s certification currently covers all farm workers, both his son and son-in-law are earning licenses. He urged all farmers to obtain certification.

“It’s a learning process because we’re using different things to handle different plants,” Patterson said. “If we didn’t use the science and business of pesticides, we would definitely be at a loss for the food we could produce, and the public would be at risk for health issues and damaged crops.”  

In Indiana, Reed said county extension educators are trained to answer questions and host recertification seminars. Updates are also provided to licensed applicators in his state through direct mailings and website alerts.

In most states, fertilizer does not fall under the private applicator licensing restrictions, but may require purchase from a certified dealer. State extension specialists or agriculture departments advise farmers on these state and local regulations.

For more information on the EPA’s certified applicator licensing process, visit