This includes understanding if you need a Pesticide Applicator Certification (commonly referred to as a Pesticide License), and which type and category of certification(s) you need.
First, let’s review what a pesticide is. A pesticide is defined as any material that is applied to plants, the soil, water, harvested crops, structures, clothing and furnishings, or animals to kill, attract, repel, or regulate or interrupt the growth and mating of pests, or to regulate plant growth. Pesticides include: disinfectants, fungicides, herbicides, insecticides, nematicides, repellants, defoliants, desiccants, avicides and piscicides. This includes many organic labeled pesticides. If a product has an EPA Registration Number, then it is a pesticide.
- General Use Pesticides are available for purchase or use by the general public.
- Restricted Use Pesticides (RUPs) are not available for purchase or use by the general public. RUPs are highly toxic and can only be applied by a certified applicator or someone under the certified applicator's direct supervision. If a pesticide is restricted use, it will be clearly marked on the label.
Read the descriptions of the types and categories of Certified Pesticide Applicators to find out which pesticide license you need.
No Pesticide License Required
Green Industry professionals who apply pesticides to land that they own or lease for the production of an agricultural commodity using only general use pesticides do not need to have a pesticide license to purchase and apply pesticides. Examples of this would include greenhouse flower producers, sod farmers, and nursery and Christmas tree growers who only use general use pesticides. It does not include: golf courses, public playgrounds and athletic fields.
However, Green Industry businesses that produce agricultural commodities must also comply with the EPA Worker Protection Standard. If this business employs non-family exempt employees under WPS*, those employees will need to receive yearly training from a Certified Pesticide Applicator certification starting on Day One** of employment. The certified applicator does not need to be employed by the business, but it may be easier for these businesses to have at least one Certified Pesticide Applicator in order to meet the training requirements.
- * WPS Family Exemption includes: the owner and spouse, children, stepchildren, foster children, parents, step-parents, foster parents, siblings, first cousins, nephews, nieces, aunts, uncles, grandchildren, grandparents and in-laws.
- ** Agricultural Producers subject to the WPS must now train their employees every year, and they must be trained on Day One of their employment before they do any work in the crop areas if it has been less than 30 days since the last restricted entry interval expired.
Private Applicator License Required
Green Industry professionals who apply pesticides to land that they own or lease for the production of an agricultural commodity using Restricted Use Pesticides (RUPs) will need a Private Applicator License. A Private Applicator License encompasses all of the applications that could be made under Categories 1-9 and 22. If RUPs are to be applied for purposes other than production of an agricultural commodity, the applicator must have a Commercial Applicator License in the appropriate category. Additional testing is required if the applicator intends to use a Restricted Use fumigant on property that they own or lease for the production of an agricultural commodity. Private Applicators would need to take the Private Applicator certification exam plus the Category 20 (Commodity and Space Fumigation) and/or Category 21 (Soil Fumigation) certification exam.
Commercial or Public Pesticide Applicator License Required
In Pennsylvania, anyone making pesticide applications to land that they (or their employer) do not own or lease is required to have at least one Certified Pesticide Applicator for each business address and name from which they operate. The Pesticide Applicator must be certified in the categories for the crops and use sites for which they will be making applications. These businesses or public entities will also require a business license through the PDA. Each business name and location requires a separate Business License and BU (Business Unit) Number.
- Commercial Applicators are individuals who have passed the certification examination (core exam plus at least one category exam) and are employed by a licensed pesticide application business who apply pesticides to property not owned or rented by the applicator or employer.
- Public Applicators are individuals who have passed the certification examination (core exam plus at least one category exam) and who apply pesticides as an employee of the federal government, state government, local government or its instrumentalities (public entities).
Commercial and Public Certified Pesticide Applicators may supervise non-certified applicators who will be within sight and sound at all times. Once an applicator has been certified for one year in a category, they are qualified to train and supervise a Registered Technician assisting with applications in that category.
Which Category Do You Need?
The standard categories for Green Industry Commercial and Public Certified Pesticide Applicators includes 06, 07, 10, 22 and/or 23.
Category 06: Ornamental and Shade Trees
The use of a pesticide in the maintenance of an ornamental tree, shrub, flower or other ornamental.
This category would be used by applicators making pesticide applications to trees, shrubs, annual and perennial flowers, and other ornamental plants at commercial and residential properties for the purpose of maintaining healthy ornamental plants and shade trees. It also includes the management of weeds in areas directly adjacent to ornamental plant beds, such as applications or pre-emergent herbicides to mulch beds in which ornamental plants are growing.
Professionals making applications to trees and other ornamental plants at schools (preschool through grade 12), parks or campgrounds may use Category 06 certification; however, Category 23 would also allow for applications at these use sites.
Category 07: Lawn and Turf
The use of a pesticide in the maintenance or production of lawn and turf.
This category would be used by applicators making pesticide applications to turfgrass for the purpose of maintaining healthy turf at commercial and residential properties, golf courses and athletic fields.
Professionals making applications to turfgrass at schools (preschool through grade 12), parks or campgrounds may use Category 07 certification; however, Category 23 would also allow for applications at these use sites.
Category 10: Right-of-Way and Weeds
The use of a pesticide to maintain a public road, an electrical power line, a pipeline, a railway right-of-way, or a similar type of area; to control vegetation around a structure, such as an oil tank, utility sub stations, an industrial railway siding, an airport, a parking lot, a fence, or an industrial building; or for the control of an invasive weed species in other areas.
Category 10 primarily applies to the use of herbicides and plant growth regulators to manage undesired plants around roadways, structures and utility facilities for the purposes of safety, visibility and access. It also covers the management of weeds that are not already defined in the other categories, such as disturbed construction sites and riverbanks. It also includes the management of invasive weeds. For example, the management of the invasive weed purple-loosestrife that is growing on the dry bank of a pond would be a Category 10 application. However, if the purple-loosestrife was growing in the water, that would be a Category 09 application.
Category 10 does not include the management of weeds or pests (like mosquitoes) in roadside ponds or drainage ditches, and care should be taken to avoid these areas when making Category 10 applications.
Category 22: Interior Plantscape
The use of a pesticide to control plant pests when the soil or plant to be treated is located within an enclosed structure.
This category would be used by applicators making pesticide applications to plants or soil inside of enclosed structures at commercial and residential properties. This category includes application made to plants or soil in indoor container or bed plantings in malls, office buildings, school greenhouses and other greenhouses and atriums that do not produce an agricultural commodity.
Professionals who make applications to school greenhouse may use Category 22 or Category 23.
Category 23: Park or School Pest Control
The use of a pesticide in a campground or recreational area of a public or private park or on school property.
Category 23 encompasses application made under Categories 05, 06, 07, 09, 10, 11, 15, 16 or 22. All Category 23 applications must take place on property owned by the park, school or campground. Under this regulation a school is defined as K-12, preschool and public or private day care centers with seven or more children. Post-secondary educational organizations (colleges, universities, technical schools) are not included in the definition.
Anyone can be a Category 23 Applicator. Category 23 Certified Applicators are usually employees who work for the park, school or campground. However, Category 23 applicators may be employees of a licensed pesticide application business who make application at a park, school or campground. Some pesticide application businesses choose to have Category 23 because it allows them to manage a large range of pest control situations at the parks, schools or campgrounds. Additionally, some school districts, parks or campgrounds may require that applicators have Category 23 certification, even though their other crop/site certifications may be sufficient to comply with Pennsylvania Pesticide laws and regulations.
Vocational instructors at schools may be certified in Category 18 (Demonstration and Research) and/or Category 22 (Interior Plantscapes). These instructors can only make applications for the purposes of demonstration and research (Cat 18) or to make applications in a school's greenhouse (Cat 22). Category 18 or 22 applicators are not certified to make applications to school grounds and facilities.
It is important to note that Category 23 does not include applications made under Category 12 (Wood Destroying Pests) and Category 24 (Swimming Pools).
Other Categories: Edibles
Do you have clients who ask you to manage pest, disease or weed control in or around their edible crop gardens? Maybe it’s an entire garden or just one tomato plant that they want to protect from late blight or one grapevine that needs powdery mildew control. If your clients are asking for pest control services for crops that they intend eat, you would need to have certification in the category for that crop. It doesn’t matter whether you are using conventional farming pesticides or products available to homeowners and/or organic or “green” products. Commercial or Public applications of pesticides to edible crops require one of the following categories of certification:
Category 02: Fruits and Nuts
The use of a pesticide in the production of tree fruits, nuts and berries.
Category 03: Vegetable Crops
The use of a pesticide in the production of vegetables, including, tomatoes, cabbage and celery.
Other Categories: Ponds
Category 09: Aquatic Pest Control
The use of a pesticide on standing or running water, excluding the use of a pesticide in a public health-related activity described in Category 16.
Green Industry professionals who apply pesticides in waterways including ponds (including ornamental ponds) or streams such as those found in landscapes or on golf courses. This includes some pond dyes that are used to manage pond weeds and algae growth – if the product has an EPA registration number, then it is a pesticide. The applicator will have the further responsibility of securing a permit from the PA Fish and Boat Commission before using pesticides in ponds and streams.
It is important to note that Category 09 does not include swimming pool treatments. The use of a pesticide in the care and maintenance of swimming pools requires certification in Category 24.
Other Categories: Soil Fumigation
Category 21: Fumigation
The application of a fumigant to a soil environment.
Some Green Industry professionals wish to apply fumigants to the soil to insects, disease or weeds, or to underground animal burrows such as groundhog holes. Anyone who applies fumigants to soil must have Category 21. If the applicator is making the application to property that they own or lease for the production of an agricultural commodity, then the applicator must take the Private Applicator exam (open book) plus the Category 21 exam. If the application is being made to property not owned or leased by the applicator or the employer, the applicator must the the Commercial/Public Core exam (closed book) plus the Category 21 exam.
If you have any special concerns or situations and need help to be sure of the licensing you must have, call your regional PA Department of Agriculture office. They will help you interpret the law so you can be sure you understand what you have to do.
Green Industry professionals preparing for the exam should purchase the study guides to prepare for the exams.
Pesticide Applicator Certification Exam Study Materials
The Penn State Commercial Pesticide Applicator Short Course is offered in several locations across the state each year. This course prepares Green Industry professionals for the core and category exams for commercial and public applicators. To watch for upcoming courses in your region, please check the Commercial and Public Pesticide Applicator Short Course webpage. You can enter your contact information to be notified about upcoming courses.
For further information
Pennsylvania Pesticide Laws and Regulations for Commercial and Public Applicators