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To fly, or not to fly? You will have to pass the exam, first!

Two local helicopter pilots called UF/IFAS Extension Seminole County in a bit of a frenzy. Stan Yearly and Dustin Johnson, Orlando based helicopter pilots, were summoned by Midwest farmers in need of skilled aviators. In two weeks, the farmers would need help spraying 60,000 acres of corn and soy at a critical phase of management. All that Stan and Dustin needed to do was to pass three pesticide applicators exams, get results, obtain reciprocal licenses for another state, and get to the Midwest!

Pesticide examinees are required to pass exams and receive continuing education to maintain licenses.

 

These determined pilots quickly learned about the sluggish pesticide licensing process. Exam dates full in one county, conflicting dates in another, Stan and Dustin got nervous watching their big opportunity desiccate like the weeds they hoped to be spraying. Then, these pilots called Hannah Wooten, the Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Agent in Seminole County. She, too, had scheduling incompatibility with Stan and Dustin, so she carved out a slice of a Friday with the goal of getting these guys flying.

With cooperation from colleagues and support from the FDACS pesticide team, Hannah was able to accommodate and expedite the pesticide exam licensing process. Stan and Dustin are now licensed aerial row crop pesticide applicators. Not only are these gentlemen critical to the production and harvest of major commodity crops in the Midwestern US, but their big contract is critical to our local economy here in Central Florida. At a pay rate ranging between about $10- 15 per acre for 60,000 acres, this contract resulted in about $750,000 to a local company.

More Impacts from Pesticide Licensing

Pesticide licensing is usual business for Extension Agents, however, the license indicating certification of skills for the holder can have valuable consequences. According to the Florida Agency of Workforce Innovation, licensed pesticide applicators wages are significantly higher than other landscape and agricultural workers without a license at a rate of about $15.28 per hour compared to $11.29. With 111 pesticide exams administered in Seminole County in 2017 and a passing rate of 70%, new licensed pesticide applicators are increasing their incomes by at least $6500 per year.

In addition to accommodating pesticide licensing exams, Extension Agents teach reviews to help participants prepare for exams. Extension Agents also teach Continuing Education Units for license holders to stay up to date on the latest in pesticide regulation, safety, and integrated pest management. In 2017, Hannah cooperated with the Central District Pesticide Training Team teaching at 8 different events to 318 individuals.

Accommodating and educating our clientele has consequences beyond our county boundaries from providing a bit more economic stability for local families, to protecting our waters from chemical contamination, to huge impacts for local businesses, landscapes, and US agriculture. Our local helicopter pilots, Stan Yearly and Dustin Johnson, are just two examples of how UF/IFAS provides solutions for your life, big and small, every day. The big impacts can be easier to quantify on paper, while measuring the culmination of all the little differences that improve the lives for our residents remain mysterious. Often times, the gratifying work of UF/IFAS Extension Agents is measured on the scale of a small curve and a couple words… a smile and thank you.

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