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Unloading near the Ruark century farm
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North40

Wilbur-Ellis

POLICY

License laws

Under EPA rules, no recertification extension allowed for Washington pesticide applicators

February 2021
By Trista Crossley


Unfortunately, Washington state pesticide applicators struggling to get their recertification credits done on time won’t be able to count on an extension.

Christina Zimmerman, program manager with the Washington State Department of Agriculture’s (WSDA) Licensing and Recertification Program, Pesticide Management Division, explained that in 2017, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) revised the federal rule on pesticide application certification and training to limit the recertification period to five years. States can have their own limits, as long as they are within EPA’s maximum limit; Washington’s was already set at five years.

“The EPA issued temporary guidance regarding the certification of pesticide applicators during the pandemic. One of those temporary modifications you can make to your state plan allowed for an extension of the recertification period beyond what you already told the EPA you are limiting it to,” Zimmerman said. “However, the caveat was you can do that as long as the recertification period doesn’t extend beyond five years. For those states that have two- and three-year periods, it worked out for them. We couldn’t even consider that as an option.”

WSDA instead turned to the factors they could control, namely modifying their recertification standards to allow for webinar and hybrid courses that the department hadn’t previously considered and expediting review of courses.

Between April 1, 2020, and the end of the year, Zimmerman said there were a total of 768 course sessions available, and of that, almost 500 of them were open, meaning anyone could register for them. The kicker, though, was that only 22 of those courses open to the public were in person. That change to an online format likely delayed some people who weren’t comfortable accessing the courses via computer or just preferred the networking and social components of in-person sessions. Zimmerman said she thought a lot of people waited a little too long to see if on-site courses would resume.

“Sponsors just decided not to hold anything because of the safety risk. I think there were a huge number of credits out there, but they were just in a format that some people weren’t comfortable with,” she said, adding that the majority of recertification courses in 2021 will likely stay online as well.

Private applicators need 20 credits to recertify, but only 10 credits a year are allowed to count. Commercial applicators need 40 credits, and only 15 a year count. That limit could be another reason why some applicators are struggling.

“People forget, because it’s such a long recertification cycle, that our state law has a limit on the number of credits you can earn in a calendar year,” Zimmerman said. “The goal there is to require an applicator to try to get continuing education throughout their recertification period rather than getting it all in one year.”

In the past few weeks, the Washington Association of Wheat Growers (WAWG) has heard from producers that finding the credits they need isn’t the difficult part—it’s the lack of fast, reliable internet access and having to share what access they do have with kids’ schooling and a spouse’s job. While one of the advantages of an online course is that they can usually be accessed at any time, that’s not very helpful when there is no good time.

Michelle Hennings, WAWG’s executive director, said the organization will take the issue up with Congress to see if an extension could be done there.

“We know some growers are really struggling to recertify their applicator’s license because they just can’t access the online courses they need as easily as they could attend in-person ones. This is another issue highlighting broadband problems many people living in rural areas experience,” she said.

Andy Juris, WAWG’s secretary/treasurer, lives in Klickitat County. He has a commercial applicator’s license and said it can be a challenge to get enough credits even when there are plenty of in-person meetings to attend.

“In Bickleton, we don’t have reliable or fast internet,” he said, adding that in order to attend many of his online wheat industry meetings, sometimes he has to drive 30 or 40 miles out of town in order to get a reliable signal. “There’s also an increased financial burden as most of the online options require a fee. I would hope the EPA would take a more understanding and proactive approach to this problem as it will eventually place a lot of folks, who are trying to follow the rules in good faith, in a really tough position.”

For those applicators that have no hope of getting enough recertification credits, the best thing to do might be to drop that effort and retest to maintain their license. Zimmerman said the only reduction in WSDA testing has been at their Everett location because it is a Washington State University campus that’s currently closed. WSDA tests weekly in Olympia and Yakima, monthly in Spokane and Moses Lake and bimonthly in Wenatchee.

“If you look at the beginning of the year and you see there is no possible way you’ll be able to recertify by earning credits, you just might as well not try to and just retest closer to the end of the year,” she said. “For example, a private applicator may only have 9 credits right now going into 2021, and their recertification period ends at end of this year. Even if they got the maximum (credits they are allowed), they will still be one credit short. They might as well not spend money going to courses and just plan on retesting at the end of the year.”

The WSDA website includes a searchable list of all the open recertification courses offered in the state. As of mid-January, there were 338 open courses with 317 of them being offered online or as a webinar. Applicators can also search by license number or name to see the courses they’ve participated in, how many credits they’ve earned, and how many credits are applicable towards recertification. WSU offers prelicense courses to prepare applicators for the exam, not to mention recertification courses.

For producers that still need help, they can call WSDA at (877) 301-4555 or email them at license@agr.wa.gov.

“We can work with producers on finding them courses that are occurring in their area. If they are in a county where there’s not as many restrictions on gatherings, there may be courses occurring,” Zimmerman said. “If they have a pesticide dealer or an organization in their area that they can request to hold an in-person course, we can certainly work with that too, even if it’s a small course, like one credit for a handful of licensees, as long as our recertification policies are met. We are used to GS Long and Wilbur Ellis having these huge courses available to applicators, and those may not be happening anymore due to COVID restrictions, so we want to be as open as possible to the options presented to us.”

Resources
The Washington Department of Agriculture’s website has a wealth of information for applicators who need to find recertification courses, look up or renew their license.

• A recertification course search will look for all open recertification courses to earn credits towards a license.

• A license search will allow an applicator to search for a license by name, license number or company. When you open your license record, you can click on your license type and get a credit report listing all courses you’ve participated in and earned credit for. The report will tell you how many credits you took and how many of those credits are applicable toward your license.

• If any employer or other organization would like to sponsor a recertification course, they can find information on requirements for sponsoring a course and platform-specific guidance here.

• License renewal forms for 2021 can be found here.

Washington State University offers pesticide safety education classes, both webinars and 24/7 self-paced internet courses. You can find that information here.