When young California pest control advisers (PCAs) Sean Morelos of San Luis Obispo and Jeremy Briscoe of Atascadero visited their alma mater literally with $1,000 scholarships in hand and found basically no takers, they were astounded.

They recalled when they were students at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, scholarship money was a means to lining the pathway to their chosen profession with gold.

However, it was not the lack of interest in the scholarship money from the California Association of Pest Control Advisers that shocked them the most when they spoke to the university’s Crops Club. It was the lack of connection to the PCA profession that rocked them. Of the more than 50 students in the club, three hands went up when they asked how many wanted to become PCAs after graduation. Only five even knew what a PCA is.

It took only the few minutes to walk to their vehicles in the campus parking lot for Briscoe and Morelos to decide they needed to do something. From that parking lot parlay sprang the program called Pathway to PCA, an aggressive industry-wide effort to educate young people about a profession that will soon be in dire need of talent.

The pair contacted universities, industry leaders and others to initiate the Pathway to PCA effort that has led to commitments of at least $250,000 to educate young people about the PCA profession and to reinvigorate the PCA profession on California high school, community college and university campuses.

The pair also co-chair CAPCA’s current membership committee.

That parking lot meeting and what followed also earned the pair recognition as 2008 CAPCA Members of the Year.

Pathway to PCA is very timely as the industry is losing from 150 to 200 PCAs per year due to retirements, but the California Department of Pesticide Regulation is licensing only about 100 per year, CAPCA President Terry Stark reported at the association’s annual meeting in Anaheim, Calif.

Not only is the number of field PCAs declining, Stark said the number of licensed PCAs working in DPR and for county agricultural commissioners is expected to drop by 50 percent over the next 10 years due to retirement. “Without qualified PCAs knowledgeable about agriculture at DPR and at the county levels, the industry could be facing a “regulatory quagmire” unless there are PCAs to fill the impending void, says Stark.

CAPCA’s current membership stands at 2,741. It has been averaging about 3,000, but is falling because there are fewer than 4,000 PCAs licensed in California.

Stark praised the pest control/agchem industry for stepping up to fund Pathway to PCA to not only reach out to students, but to encourage DPR licensed qualified applicators to take the next step in their profession and become PCAs.

Along with Briscoe and Morelos, Marilyn Dolan, a partner in The Communications Department, Inc., a public relations firm specializing in agricultural issues management, was honored at the conference with CAPCA’s Outstanding Contribution to Agriculture Award this year.

Dolan was recognized for more than 20-plus years of work as a professional marketing and communications leader on many agricultural issues.

Her client list includes The Alliance for Food and Farming, California Cantaloupe Advisory Board, Fresh Carrot Advisory Board, California Strawberry Commission, Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement, California Tomato Farmers, and the Invasive Pest Coalition. She also serves as executive director of the Alliance for Food and Farming and regularly communicates information on food safety issues to the media and consumer audiences.

One of her greatest contributions has been her impact on launching the Spray Safe Campaign. A proactive, public relations approach to pesticide drift concerns, she has said the Spray Safe Campaign is akin to a neighborhood watch program with members keeping a close eye on each other’s fields to avoid spray accidents and prevent additional regulatory hardships that might come as a result of such mishaps.

email: hcline@farmpress.com