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Pesticides are vital tools for managing pests that reduce crop yield and quality, spread disease, congest our waterways, or jeopardize our quality of life. Common types of pesticides include herbicides, fungicides, rodenticides, and insecticides. The goal of pesticide applicator certification and licensing is to protect people, property, the food supply, and the environment from both pests and pesticide misuse by ensuring the initial and continued competence of pesticide applicators.

* For information about certification and licensing for pesticide applications in and around homes and commercial buildings, see Structural Pest Control: A Certification Manual for North Carolina, available through the Pesticide Safety Education Program at NC State University.

Classification of Pesticides and Pesticide Applicators

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classifies pesticides as either restricted use or general use (unclassified). Restricted use pesticides have a greater potential to harm humans, the environment, or both. The label states restricted use pesticide, as indicated below.

RESTRICTED USE PESTICIDE

For retail sale to and use only by certified applicators or by persons under their direct supervision and only for those uses covered by the certified applicator’s certification.

Only a certified pesticide applicator or someone who works under his or her supervision may apply restricted use pesticides. Only licensed pesticide dealers can sell them.

There are two main classifications of certified applicators: private and commercial. These certifications and the requirements to attain (initial certification) and retain (recertification) them are described in this publication.

Training and Testing

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NC State Extension conducts two-day pesticide schools to prepare prospective applicators for the private and commercial applicator certification exams. To enroll in a pesticide school (fees apply), visit the NC Pesticide Safety Education Program website (see the contact information below). Attendance at a pesticide school is not required for certification. Anyone who wants to be certified as a pesticide applicator must take the appropriate exam(s). The certification exams are developed, administered, and graded by the Structural Pest Control & Pesticides Division of the N.C. Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services (NCDA&CS). To register for an exam only, call the NCDA&CS (see the contact information below). Exam dates and locations are listed on the Pesticide Safety Education Program and the NCDA&CS websites.

All exams, except for the Private Soil Fumigation exam, are closed-book and consist of multiple-choice questions. An uncirculated Soil Fumigation manual is provided for that exam. Exam questions come from study manuals that may be purchased from the Pesticide Safety Education Program at NC State University. Order the study materials at least three weeks before taking an exam to allow adequate time to read and review the information. Some exams and training manuals are available in Spanish. Fees apply to all exams.

Bring a No. 2 pencil, calculator (smart phones are prohibited), and valid government-issued photo ID to the exam site. Payment can be made by cash, check (payable to NCDA&CS) or money order at the exam site. Exam results will be mailed by NCDA&CS within one to two weeks. Results are also available online through the NCDA&CS website, generally within 7 to 10 business days. If necessary, an exam may be taken three times in one calendar year.

Private Pesticide Applicators

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Private pesticide applicators use or supervise the use of a restricted use pesticide to produce an agricultural commodity on their own property, rented property, or property owned by their employers. An agricultural commodity is any plant or part of a plant, as well as any animal or animal product, produced for sale, feed, food, or other uses. Examples of private applicators include farmers, nursery operators, sod producers, Christmas tree growers, and beekeepers. A private applicator must be at least 16 years old before participating in a certification program. Private pesticide applicators who inject or apply fumigants to soils or growing media must be certified in Private Soil Fumigation (category Z(SF)).

Requirements for Initial Certification

  • Pass, with a score of 70 percent or more, the 50-question multiple-choice Private Applicator Exam ($10 fee) based on the North Carolina Pesticide Applicator Certification Core Manual. (For private soil fumigation, an additional 50-question exam ($10 fee) must be passed. This exam is based on the Soil Fumigation manual.)
  • The NCDA&CS will send an attestation form (Application for Private Pesticide Certification) to people who pass the certification exam. The attestation form is a legal document attesting that the applicant is involved in the production of an agricultural commodity.
  • Sign the attestation form and return it with a $10 check or money order payable to NCDA&CS.
  • Upon receipt of the signed form and payment, the NCDA&CS will send the Private Applicator Certification Card. The card will expire on December 31 of the third year following the year of initial certification.

Recertification

Private applicators must recertify every three years by completing one of the following requirements:

  • Earn 4 hours of continuing education credits. Two-hour pesticide safety classes (category “V” training) are offered at each local Cooperative Extension county center. In addition to this 2-hour pesticide safety class, each private applicator must attend at least 2 hours of specialized training (category “X” training) during the three-year recertification period. Specialized training credits may be earned by attending educational meetings approved for credit by NCDA&CS and conducted by Cooperative Extension, commodity groups, private industry, or other associations. Call your local Extension county center, visit the Pesticide Safety Education Program, or the NCDA&CS websites for a listing of approved classes. Private soil fumigation requires 1 credit in a fumigation-specific topic during the three-year recertification period.

OR

  • Pay for and pass the Private Applicator Exam (and the Private Soil Fumigation Exam, if applicable) again with a minimum score of 70 percent.

Recertification through earning continuing education credits must be completed by September 30 of the year in which certification expires. Following completion of recertification requirements, private pesticide applicators will receive a Certification Renewal Application from NCDA&CS. This form must be signed and returned to the NCDA&CS with a $10 renewal fee payable by check or money order (private soil fumigation is an additional $10 fee). Once the application and fee are processed, certification will be renewed for three years, and a new certification card will be mailed to the applicator.

Single-Purchase Emergency Certification Permit

An individual who did not anticipate the need for a restricted use pesticide and who has not previously been certified as a private pesticide applicator may obtain a one-time, emergency-use permit from his local Extension county center pesticide coordinator. This permit authorizes the purchase and use of one restricted use pesticide for one application to a crop or site. It is made available at the discretion of the county pesticide coordinator. A completed copy of the single-purchase emergency-use permit must be turned over to the licensed pesticide dealer when the purchase is made. Anyone who uses a one-time emergency-use permit must become certified if he or she plans to use restricted use pesticides again. Pesticide users in North Carolina can be issued only one single-purchase emergency-use permit.

Commercial Pesticide Applicators

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A commercial applicator is anyone who uses or supervises the use of any pesticide on someone else’s property for compensation. And anyone who accepts compensation for applying any pesticide on someone else’s property must be licensed with the NCDA&CS (described in Licensing). Commercial applicators must be certified in at least one specialty category and in all categories in which they will operate. See Table 1.1 for a list of commercial applicator categories and their letter designations. Study manuals are available for all the certification exams.


Table 1.1 Commercial applicator certification (specialty area) categories and recertification requirements. (Dealer and Aerial are considered license types, but each has a certification exam.)

Category and Letter Designation

Purpose

Recertification Hours

Aquatic (A)

Pest control in and around water

6

Public Health (B)

Control of pests affecting human health (excludes bedbugs and other structural pests)

6

Dealer (D)

Sales of restricted-use pesticides

5

Forest (G)

Pest control in large forest areas

6

Right of Way (H)

Pest control along highways, railroads, and utilities

4

Regulatory (I)

Control of regulated pests (e.g., witchweed, gypsy moth)

6

Ag. Pest-Animal (K)

Subclass: Livestock

Subclass: Poultry

Subclass: Small Animal

Control of pests affecting animals (livestock, poultry, or small animal)

6

Ornamental & Turf (L)

Control of pests affecting ornamentals, shade trees, and turf

10

Seed Treatment (M)

Control of pests through application of pesticides to seeds

3

Demonstration & Research (N)*

Pesticides used in field demonstration or research programs

10

Ag. Pest-Plant (O)

Commercial application of pesticides in farming

10

Aerial (P)*

Pesticide application using aircraft

1**

Soil Fumigation (S)

Fumigant application to soils or growing media (excludes fumigation of raw ag. commodities)

3

Wood Treatment (T)

Use of restricted-use pesticides in/on wood

4


Requirements for Initial Certification

Initial certification in most commercial applicator categories requires passing two exams: the Core Exam (100 questions) based on the material in the North Carolina Pesticide Applicator Certification Core Manual, and an exam for a category (50 questions). Exam fees, payable to NCDA&CS, are $50 for the Core and Aerial Methods, and $20 for each category. Additional categories may be added by passing the appropriate category exam without taking the Core Exam a second time (provided that the Core Exam was passed in 2004 or later). NCDA&CS will send a Pesticide License Application to any person who passes both exams. The signed form must be returned to NCDA&CS with the $75 licensing fee (this fee is not required for public operators; see “License Types”). Licensing is described in greater detail in a subsequent section.

Commercial applicator certification expires on December 31 of the fifth year following initial certification (except aerial, see below). There are two recertification options:

  • Earn the required number of continuing certification credits by June 30 of the year in which certification expires

OR

  • Pay for and pass the Core Exam and specialized category area exam(s) again.

Recertification

The number of recertification credit hours needed for each category is listed in Table 1.1. Credits must be earned in at least two years during the five-year certification period. Pesticide recertification credits may be earned by attending educational programs that have been pre-approved for credits by NCDA&CS. To locate meetings approved for recertification credits, call your county Cooperative Extension center or visit the NCDA&CS website. Make certain that the recertification program is approved for the required specialization category.

The NCDA&CS sends periodic reports of credits received and credits needed. Pesticide recertification credit status (number of credits earned per category) can also be checked through the NCDA&CS website by clicking on the link to “Licensee Search / Credit Status Search.” Allow two to three weeks for attendance records to be posted on this site. Credits are not carried over from one recertification period to the next. Taking and passing the appropriate certification exam is the only alternative to recertification via continuing education credits.

Individuals certified in two or more categories must complete the total number of credits in the category carrying the highest requirement and then three credits in each additional category (the reduced requirement of 3 credits still must be split and earned in at least two different years). For example, Ornamentals and Turf (L) requires 10 credits, and Aquatics (A) requires 6 credits. A person certified in both categories is required to obtain 10 credits for (L) and 3 credits for (A). Applicators that are licensed in Demonstration & Research and one other category must complete 10 credit hours in Demonstration & Research and the total required credit hours for the other category. Applicators that are licensed in Demonstration & Research and two or more other categories must complete the 10 credit hours in Demonstration & Research, complete the total credit hours for the category that has the highest credit hour requirement, and three credit hours for each remaining category. Credits for all categories added during a recertification period must be earned prior to the expiration date of the initial recertification period. Recertification dates do not change with the addition of new categories.

Licensing

The North Carolina Pesticide Law of 1971 further requires licensing of any individual who is compensated to apply any pesticide (whether restricted-use or general-use) to someone else’s property; any public operator; and any golf course operator. Pest control consultants and dealers who sell restricted-use pesticides also must be licensed. Each business location must have a licensed pesticide applicator on staff.

All licenses expire each year on December 31 and are renewed annually. Only an individual with valid certification may renew a pesticide license by submitting a signed application with a licensing fee of $75. A commercial applicator must be licensed in any year in which the applicator will be applying pesticides or supervising their use. The license also is required to purchase a restricted-use pesticide. An applicator must be 18 years old by January 1 of the year in which the license application is submitted.

Each category of certification is printed on the pesticide license (by letter designation). The five license categories are described below.

License Types

1. Commercial Applicator: Anyone who, for compensation, uses or supervises the use of any pesticide on the property of another. This category may be referred to as commercial ground applicator to distinguish it from pesticides applied by aircraft (aerial applicator) or in structural pest control.

A note about supervision: The North Carolina Pesticide Law of 1971 permits an unlicensed pesticide user to apply pesticides (with some exceptions) under the direct supervision of a licensed applicator. Unless stated otherwise on the pesticide label, the supervisor does not have to be physically present at the treatment site, but must maintain reasonable communication (such as phone or radio contact) with the supervised applicator and must be able to respond to emergencies. The applicator being supervised should be trained in following the label instructions and be familiar with safe handling techniques and pertinent laws and regulations. A licensed applicator will be held responsible for any misuse of a pesticide by anyone working under his/her supervision.

2. Public Operator: Anyone who applies or supervises the application of pesticides for town, city, county, state, or federal government agencies must be licensed as a public operator. Public utility employees are also considered public operators. Public operators study the same manuals and take the same exams as commercial applicators. No license fee is required for government employees, but an annual licensing application must be submitted to NCDA&CS each year. Public utility employees must pay an annual licensing fee ($75). Public operator licenses can be mailed only to the address of a government agency or the utility. To apply pesticides outside of regular government or utility employment requires a Commercial Applicator License or Private Applicator Certificate. Contact the NCDA&CS for the proper procedures.

3. Pesticide Dealer: Any individual who sells restricted-use pesticides to certified or licensed end users must have a pesticide dealer’s license. Each sales outlet must have a licensed dealer. Dealer certification requires passing the Dealer Exam ($50 fee). No specialty area is needed. A pesticide dealer license must be renewed annually ($75 fee). A dealer cannot legally apply pesticides to the property of another person without an applicator license.

4. Aerial Applicator: An Aerial Applicator License is required for any individual who applies pesticides by aircraft. Applicants for aerial licenses (pilot, contractor, or apprentice) must first meet all requirements of the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) to operate the equipment described in an application. A contractor must have an operating certificate issued by the FAA, and all pilots must have a commercial-type license issued by the FAA.

Pilots must have completed at least 125 hours and have one year’s flying experience in aerial pesticide application. A pilot with less than 125 hours and one year’s experience will be licensed as an apprentice and must operate under the direct supervision of a licensed pilot.

The aerial applicator is required to pass the Core Exam ($50 fee), an exam in aerial methods ($50 fee), and an exam in the specialty area(s). Specialty area exam fees are $20 each. An aerial applicator can be certified in any specialty area listed in Table 1.1 except Seed Treatment, Wood Treatment, Soil Fumigation or Ag Pest-Animal.

Aerial applicator certification expires on December 31 of the second year following initial certification. Recertification by training requires 4 hours of approved credits: 3 hours for the first specialty category, and 1 hour in “aerial methods.” Credits must be obtained by June 30 of the second year following certification. Aerial applicators certified in more than one category must complete 1 extra hour of training for each additional specialty area. The Aerial Applicator License must be renewed annually ($75). Annual inspections of aircraft by NCDA&CS cost $25.

5. Pest Control Consultant: Anyone who, for a fee, offers or supplies technical advice, supervision, or aid, or recommends the use of specific pesticides for the purpose of controlling insects, plant disease, weeds, or other pests must obtain a Pest Control Consultant License ($75 annual fee). Individuals applying for this license must submit to NCDA&CS a transcript showing completion of a four-year degree in an agricultural or biological science from an accredited college or university. A minimum of 30 semester hours or 45 quarter hours of credit must be documented in subject areas pertinent to the specialty area(s) in which the individual wishes to consult. If the above educational requirements are met, a consultant must pass the written consultant’s exam ($50 fee), Core exam ($50 fee), and a category-specific exam ($20) in the area of consultation (such as agriculture, forestry, or ornamentals and turf). The fee for the pest control consultant license is $75. There are no training manuals designed for the Pest Control Consultant exam. A pest control consultant cannot legally apply pesticides to the property of another unless licensed as an applicator.

Reciprocity

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Reciprocity varies by certification/license type and is only granted to individuals who are residents of a state other than North Carolina and who expect to make pesticide applications here. Once you become a resident of North Carolina, reciprocity is no longer an option and therefore you must take the appropriate North Carolina exam(s) to become certified and licensed.

Commercial Ground Applicators can be issued a reciprocal ground applicator's license provided they have proof that they were certified by written examination in Virginia, Georgia, South Carolina, or Florida. A valid certification card must be presented before a reciprocal license will be issued. The cost of the reciprocal license is $75 per year. Recertification can be maintained through the applicator's home state or through earning the appropriate number of credits in North Carolina.

Private Applicators can be issued a reciprocal North Carolina certification provided they have proof that they are currently certified in another state. The cost of the reciprocal certification is $10 per three-year cycle. A valid certification card must be presented before a reciprocal certification will be issued. Recertification can be maintained through the applicator's home state or through earning the appropriate number of credits in North Carolina.

Aerial applicator reciprocal licenses are issued in the subclass of public health only and are granted only upon the declaration of a public health emergency by an authorized government official. Aerial applicator reciprocity is limited to Georgia, South Carolina, Virginia and Mississippi. This reciprocal license costs $75 per year.

Reciprocal licenses are not available for pesticide dealers or pest control consultants.

Applicators who are licensed in North Carolina may qualify for a similar license in another state. Contact the appropriate state agency for details. For a list of state regulatory agencies, visit the National Pesticide Information Center’s list of State Pesticide Regulatory Agencies.

Recertification Course Approval

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All educational programs for pesticide recertification credit (private and commercial) must be pre-approved by the NCDA&CS. Course sponsors may apply for pesticide continuing education (recertification) credits at the NCDA&CS Pesticides Section Licenses and Certification page.

Credit will be given only for pesticide-related topics. The number of credit hours equates to the number of hours of pesticide training scheduled. Approval is sent to the training sponsor via email. Recertification classes for the Private Applicator “V” category (safety training) may be conducted only by Cooperative Extension.

 


Table 1.2. Summary of certification and licensing requirements.

Certification Type

Initial Certification Process

Expiration

Recertification Process

Fee

Private applicator
(minimum age 16)

1. Pass the 50-question multiple-choice Private Applicator Exam ($10).

2. Sign the attestation form and return it to NCDA&CS. This form is a legal document attesting to the applicant’s involvement in the production of an agricultural commodity.

December 31 of the third year.

Option 1. By Sept. 30 of the third year, earn 4 credit hours (2 hours of pesticide safety and 2 hours of specialized training)

Option 2.

Pass the Private Applicator Exam again.

$10 per three years

Private Soil Fumigation

Same requirements as Private Applicator plus pass the Private Applicator Soil Fumigation Exam ($10).

Same as above

Option 1. Retain Private Applicator status and earn 1 credit in soil fumigation by Sept. 30 of the third year.

Options 2. Same as private applicator above plus pass Soil Fumigation Exam again.

Commercial applicator
(minimum age 18 by Jan. 1 of licens­ing year)

1. Pass two exams: the Core Exam (100 questions) and the exam for the specialized category. Additional categories may be added by passing the category exam without taking the Core Exam a second time if the Core Exam was passed after August 2004.

2. NCDA&CS will send a Pesticide License Application to people who pass both exams.

December 31 of the fifth year.

Option 1. By June 30 of the fifth year, earn the required number of continu­ing certification credits.*

Option 2. Pass the Core Exam and the category exam(s) again.

$50 for Core Exam; $20 for each category exam

License

Commercial applicators must have a current license to apply pesticides.

December 31 annually.

Only individuals with valid certification may renew a pesticide license.

$75 per year

Reciprocal Licenses (part of table above)

For holders of valid certification/license cards from Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, or Florida who expect to make pesticide applications in North Carolina. Eligibility for a reciprocal license requires passing a written pesticide-certification exam in one of those states.

* The number of recertification credit hours needed for each category is listed in Table 1.1. Credits must be earned in at least two calendar years during the five-year certification period.


Contact Information

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For information on pesticide training manuals and schools:

NC Pesticide Safety Education Program
Department of Horticultural Science
North Carolina State University
Campus Box 7609, Raleigh, NC 27695-7609
919.515.3113

For information on pesticide laws, certification exams, and licensing:

North Carolina Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services (NCDA&CS)
Structural Pest Control and Pesticides Division, Pesticide Section
1090 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-1090
919.733.3556

Published in collaboration with the Structural Pest Control and Pesticides Division of the NCDA&CS.

Author

Extension Specialist (Pesticide Education)
Horticultural Science

Publication date: June 20, 2019
AG-714

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