A tenacious collaboration by leaders from agriculture, academia, and state government led to a final agreement this year to modernize Arizona pest control advisor license requirements. As a result. the tweaked rules are attracting bright college and university students to the PCA field.

PCA license rule changes in the Arizona Administrative Code R3-3-207 took effect Jan. 5. The makeover will make it easier to replace seasoned PCAs eyeing retirement with a fresh, well trained new workforce.

“The problem is we have an aging Arizona pest control advisor workforce in their 50’s and 60’s and not enough new professionals coming in fast enough to replace the folks who will retire,” said PCA Andy Hancock, president of the Arizona Crop Protection Association (AzCPA).

PCAs are licensed professionals who specialize in pest management and make recommendations to crop growers on ways to improve plant health.

The rule changes evolved out of serious discussions with the AzCPA board, college and university leaders, and the Arizona Department of Agriculture (ADA). Some of the ideas were borrowed from the California PCA licensing program.

The ADA, which administers PCA licensing, is pleased with the new rules.

“It was a great effort of industry and the department working together to make positive changes," said ADA Interim Director Jack Peterson. “The changes allow much more flexibility for applicants while not compromising the scientific background that everyone wanted." 

Peterson added, “We have had several new (PCA) applicants this year so the new rules appear to be working.” 

According to the ADA, there are about 210 registered PCAs in the Grand Canyon State.

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Efforts to improve the Arizona PCA license originated two years ago when AzCPA board member Tyrell Currie discussed current PCA requirements with academia leaders, including University of Arizona Cooperative Extension Director Jeff Silvertooth and Central Arizona College agriculture professor Karen Geldmacher.

Keenly interested

The academia leaders shared with Currie that some students were keenly interested in entering the field of agriculture, including the PCA business, but the state PCA licensing requirements then were too inflexible, if not impossible, for students to achieve without additional years of college courses.

Some college course titles were changed and would not count toward the specific course names spelled out in the rules required for a PCA license, even though the new courses covered the same technical material. Potential PCAs were frustrated and considered other vocations.

Currie found this same situation at Fertizona, his employer and Arizona’s largest agricultural fertilizer and crop protection retailer based in Casa Grande. Currie serves as the company’s marketing and safety director.

Student interns at Fertizona shadowed the company’s PCAs and were interested in following the PCA career path. The inequities between college class titles and other issues in current PCA rules made becoming a PCA almost impossible.

Currie brought this issue to the AzCPA board which tackled the issue head on. The board consists of manufacturers and retailers of agricultural chemicals and fertilizers in the state.

AzCPA worked tirelessly with academia and ADA to develop fresh ideas to modernize the PCA license requirements. The ADA had heard similar feedback and was very interested in changing the PCA license rules.

“The ADA reception to the ideas was extremely positive,” according to Robert Shuler, an attorney registered as the lobbyist for the AzCPA.

“The agency was doing the best they could with the existing rules. They were very appreciative of the collaborative efforts between all parties to bring the rules up to date,” Shuler said.

Rule changes

In addition to changing the course title issue, other changes were made to the PCA rules ranging from college course issues to licensing requirements without a college degree.

First, the hours requirement for a license was reduced from 45 hours to 42 hours to track with California’s PCA program.

Second, an applicant with a Bachelor of Science degree no longer needs the degree in a specific subject matter to earn a PCA license.

Third, a separate PCA track was created for those with Master’s or PhD degrees.

Fourth, those without a degree can become a licensed PCA if certain coursework is completed and the applicant has sufficient work experience. Under the former rule, a person was prohibited to get a PCA license without a degree.  

Fifth, the minimum number of credits from each individual core area is reduced. Certain non-traditional courses, work experience, and crop advisor certificates can count toward the 42-hour requirement.

The proposed changes went through the rule making process, including the governor’s regulatory review panel which approved the changes.

Hancock said, “All parties involved realized that we needed to adopt these changes to create sustainability within our industry and within our profession. The old rule package was preventing this from occurring.”

Hancock is a Yuma-based sales representative for Yara North America.

Bright future

Since the rules were adopted, interns at Fertizona and Crop Production Services are now excitedly working toward a PCA license.

“They (students) say it’s easier now,” Hancock explained. “It’s an attainable goal now compared to the last two years when they wondered if they could ever earn a PCA license.”

Shuler says new PCAs offer the industry fresh and innovative ideas and concepts.

“We need new, fresh faces to keep the PCA profession moving, relevant, and active,” the AzPCA lobbyist explained.

Shuler patted Currie on the back for helping bring this issue to the industry forefront.

In the end, Currie says, “We made the course requirements more flexible while maintaining the structural, science, and the math to ensure the integrity of the PCA license.”

The groups did not want to make the process too easy where un-educated, un-qualified individuals might become PCAs.

Currie concluded, “I think we achieved our goal to open the doors to qualified people to enter the PCA business while keeping the PCA profession a vital part of agriculture’s future.”