Michigan pesticide applicator license requirements are typically straightforward in most agricultural settings, but it can be confusing to know which license is required under certain unique scenarios.

Special thanks to Tom Lawrence, Pesticide Business Licensing Specialist with MDARD – Pesticide and Plant Management Division for his assistance in providing information for and reviewing this article.

The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) is the state agency tasked by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with overseeing certification of pesticide applicators.  Pesticides in the U.S. are classified as either general use (unclassified) or restricted use. General use pesticides are available to the public and can be applied according to the label without certification unless being applied as part of a commercial operation (see below). Restricted use pesticides (RUP) are not available to the public and are restricted for a variety of reasons such as toxicity level or potential environmental impact. Restricted use pesticides in Michigan cannot be sold, distributed, purchased, or applied without certification by MDARD.

For those applying RUP, the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act 451 of 1994 (NREPA), particularly Article II, Chapter 2, Part 83 dealing with Pesticide Control, outlines the important details pesticide applicators need to know when making applications. For most people, reading government documents like this can be a real snooze-fest…or be so painful as to cause a small trickle of blood to flow from the ears. However, at the end of the day, we all want somebody we can trust to know the laws so that we are operating safely and won’t get into trouble. After reading this article summarizing portions of these laws, you could be that person.

There are three types of pesticide certification in Michigan: registered applicators/technicians; commercial applicators; and private applicators. The following definitions are provided by MDARD:

  • Registered Applicator – individuals who apply a general use pesticide in the course of their employment or other business activity.
  • Commercial Applicator – individuals who apply a pesticide (general use or RUP) in the course of their employment or other business activity.
  • Private Applicator – individuals or their employees who apply or supervise the application of RUP for the purpose of producing any agricultural commodity on property:
    • Owned or rented by an individual or his/her employer, OR
    • On property of another for no compensation other than trading of personal services between producers.

Registered applicators cannot apply RUP, and they will not be considered in the remainder of this article.  Commercial applicators can apply general use and RUP on land owned/managed by others for hire, and this is the most versatile certification. Private applicators can apply RUP to crops they are growing on land they (or their employer) own or rent. They can also apply RUP for someone else if no money changes hands—think “I’ll spray your corn if you bale my hay.”

Agriculture in Michigan includes a high diversity of crops (second only to California) and production strategies. Questions arise when a given crop production scenario does not appear to fall neatly under one of the above categories. For example, in southwest Michigan, several unique situations exist involving growing crops under contract including seed/foundation corn, seed soybean, potatoes, vegetables, and others. There are different types of contract situations, and it is not always clear which type of pesticide certification—private or commercial—is required. The following are specific scenarios and what type of license is required. Quiz yourself and see if you know the answer before reading it.

  1. Farmer applies a general use pesticide to a crop growing on his/her own land. Answer: Since the pesticide is a general use product, no certification is required.
  2. Crop company rents acreage from a farmer and is responsible for all aspects of crop production including pesticide applications. Answer: The person making the application for the company itself or the business hired to apply the products needs a Commercial certification. The farmer needs no certification.
  3. Farmer raises a crop for a company including making RUP applications on their own land. Answer: The farmer is making the application to a crop on his/her own property, so either a Private or Commercial certification is required.
  4. Farmer applies a RUP to a crop on his/her own land for a fee paid by the contracting crop business. Answer: Since the application is made to the farmer’s land, either a Private or Commercial certification is required. Even though the farmer is being paid to make the application, in this case the “own land” trumps “for a fee” so a Private certification is sufficient.
  5. Farmer hires a worker and wants him/her to make a RUP application on land owned/rented by the farm. Answer: The farmhand can make RUP applications under the direct supervision of the farmer who holds a Private or Commercial certification. Direct supervision is generally understood to include present on site or in touch by phone.  The farmhand does not need to hold a certification.

If you have questions about pesticide applications and how to interpret the law, you can contact MDARD directly (800-292-3939) or call your local MSU Extension office for assistance.