California and Arizona grow produce that feeds the United States and the world. The diversity and value of the products grown in the West require a high level of technical expertise. The intensity of specialty agriculture must be balanced with concern for the environment to ensure sustainable crop production for generations to come. For these reasons, and more, it has never been a better time to add the Certified Crop Advisor (CCA) credential to the Pest Control Advisor license. The two credentials are complimentary.
The Pest Control Advisor (PCA) program consists of thousands of individuals who are licensed to make recommendations of restricted use pesticides in California and Arizona. The PCA program is a great career choice for individuals who want to make a living in agriculture. PCAs who want to provide the highest level of service to their growers should consider becoming a Certified Crop Advisor. There is nothing more important to a crop advisor than their reputation for making their growers successful. The deep knowledge of soil and water science and crop nutrition required to become a CCA means a grower is working with the most well-rounded crop advisor in the industry.
PCAs must study and display knowledge of integrated pest management (IPM) to receive their license. Integrated pest management emphasizes a holistic approach to controlling insects, weeds and diseases, relying on pesticides only when good farming practices can no longer contain the pest. However, the overall performance objectives for the PCA license are focused on laws and regulations pertaining to pesticides and don’t capture the breadth and complexity of agronomic practices outside of pesticide use. CCAs have the knowledge and experience to put IPM into practice. Growers know that good pesticide recommendations prevent loss of productivity but adding a balanced irrigation and nutrition program can result in gains in yield, quality and return on investment.
Keeping Up with Changing Times
CCAs must pass two challenging exams to obtain certification. The international exam tests the applicant’s general knowledge of soil and water science, nutrient management, crop production, and pest management. The state exam is more specific to management of irrigated specialty crops common across California and Arizona. Students in agricultural colleges who are interested in becoming CCAs should speak with their advisors about developing an appropriate curriculum that will help the candidate pass the exams. The West Region CCA Board has a program to subsidize the registration fees for the CCA exams for students. Check the West Region Certified Crop Advisors (WRCCA.org/exams) web site for more information. Candidates must have a Bachelor of Science in an agronomic field of study and two years of experience before they obtain certification. CCAs must stay up to date on current best agronomic practices by obtaining 40 continuing education hours every two years. When you are working with a PCA who also carries a CCA, you are working with the best.
Farming practices are constantly changing to meet new challenges. Over the 20 years, I have worked as an agronomist in California, trees and vines have replaced field crop acres and drip and micro-sprinklers have replaced flood and furrow irrigation. Growers switched from applying heavy doses of nitrogen fertilizer alone to balanced blends with lower total nitrogen applications, and they realized higher yields. Ironically, as growers’ efficiency has improved, so has increased scrutiny of nitrate pollution of ground and surface waters. In order to sustain the rich bounty of California agriculture into the future, documentation was needed to demonstrate that growers’ nitrogen fertilizer management practices were not contributing to ground water pollution.
The California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) added ground water to the Irrigated Lands Regulatory Program (ILRP) in 2012. Soon thereafter, farmer coalitions formed within watersheds to begin the process of collecting data on nitrogen management practices. It was apparent that many technically qualified agronomists were needed to accurately complete the nitrogen plans the coalitions would present to the SWRCB. Clearly, CCAs were the most qualified service providers when it came to nutrient management. Nitrogen management plans require soil testing, knowledge of a grower’s fertility plan, yield forecasts and final harvest totals. CCAs have been proven to be one of the most trusted sources of information by growers in surveys across the United States. CCAs were a perfect fit to help build the data required to manage nitrogen on a watershed scale. Thanks to language in the ILRP, the West Region CCA program has grown since 2014 to have the largest number of CCAs.
But being a CCA has benefits well beyond completing nitrogen management plans. Retail sales companies know that their business depends on strong fertilizer sales. A CCA understands how to use soil, water and plant tissue analysis to develop a balanced plant nutrition program that meets crop needs. Custom nutrient programs benefit the customer as they only spend money on necessary nutrients and maximize return on investment. Ag businesses benefit, in turn, as profitable farmers can pay their bills. Custom nutrition benefits the environment by applying the right fertilizer at the right time, place and rate to reduce waste.
Optimizing Soil, Water and Nutrients
Pesticide recommendations are made within a narrow regulatory framework and don’t allow for much creativity; one must follow the label. Fertilizer programs, on the other hand, can be very satisfying to create as there are many options and challenges to consider. In addition, technical expertise in managing water quality and soil salinity will be critical for the future as marginal lands and water reuse become more important for food production. Watching a healthy crop yield a bountiful harvest while knowing you played a key role is a very satisfying experience. Many of the most successful salespeople carry both the PCA and CCA as they can provide whole farm solutions that improve a grower’s bottom line.
Farmers in the western states face many challenges. As their operations increase in size and complexity, they have come to rely on the expertise that a PCA/CCA offers. They can trust that pests are being dealt with and their fertility programs are based on sound agronomic principles that will bring the most profitable production at the end of the season. Farmers also know CCAs are collecting data to help them demonstrate to regulators they are using the most conservative practices possible to prevent ground and surface water pollution. The sustainable future of the West’s farming depends on CCAs.
If you are already a CCA, we thank you for your membership. If you would like to become more involved in the WRCCA, there are regional committees that are looking for new members. Check wrcca.org for more information on regional committees. If you are not a CCA but are interested in the program, refer to both certifiedcropadvisor.org and wrcca.org for information on exams, performance objectives and many other topics related to the program. The Agronomy Society is making it easier to take exams by switching to remote proctoring. There are also many more opportunities to get continuing education hours on-line. Stay tuned for more articles from WRCCA Board members in the months ahead.