Pesticides are an important tool to have in a farmer’s toolbox because insects, weeds, mites or fungi could kill an entire field if left to their own devices. Having said that, we’re not just spraying pesticides without careful consideration and education.
Every three years, farmers have to go to class and pass an exam to become certified to use pesticides on their crops.
A private pesticide applicator license is required for anyone using Restricted Use pesticides to produce an agricultural commodity on property they own or control – in other words, farmers looking to apply Restricted Use pesticides in their own fields. The “Restricted Use” classification restricts a product, or its uses, to be used by a certified applicator or someone under the certified applicator’s direct supervision.
Before the exam, farmers learn:
- The who, what, where, when and why’s of pesticides
- Safe handling and usage of pesticides
- Integrated Pest Management
- Pesticide laws and regulations.
In my case, I had to pass two exams. Some of my neighbors hire me to apply pesticides for them, so I have to get a commercial pesticide applicator license every three years, as well. This additional license is required for farmers who plan to apply pesticides to crops on land they do not own or rent for themselves. This exam is more complex, covering more questions than the private applicator’s exam.
Most farmers use pesticides sparingly for a variety of reasons including expense, environmental impact and time, but they are an invaluable tool when they are necessary.
We often use the term “Economic Threshold.” Economic Threshold is the pest density at which a management action should be taken to prevent an increasing pest population from causing yield losses that exceed the expense of said management action.
As farmers inspect their fields, they observe important factors such as: crop growth stage, number of pests per plant or per square foot, type of pest, pest growth stage, crop damage, neighboring crops and other surrounding areas of concern. After inspection, they then begin to determine the economic threshold, calculating the cost of applying a pesticide, current crop damage and future crop damage. If it is not economical to take action on the pest, then no action will be taken.
If it is economical to apply a pesticide, then a farmer will begin to plan out the application day. In doing so, farmers are required to follow laws and regulations using pesticides by their labels. This includes: application rate, appropriate weather conditions, using proper personal protective equipment, selecting the correct nozzles, sprayer boom height, mixing instructions, restricted distance of application from susceptible areas, safe handling instructions, storage and disposal.
Over the years, we have accomplished using fewer pesticides less frequently thanks to research and technology as a whole. Whether it is seed genetics, crop rotation or automated farm equipment, farmers continue to improve their integrated pest management program, in the interest of preserving family income and the environment.