NORFOLK, NE - An intense eight weeks are underway for agricultural instructor Robert Noonan and students in his Crop Chemicals class at Northeast Community College in Norfolk.“I use every minute” of the twice-weekly class, he said. “It’s a very serious topic.”
The course covers usage of restricted-use chemicals for crop production. Improper handling and application of these chemicals can be harmful to the environment and humans, Noonan said.
Federal and state laws govern restricted-use chemicals. In Nebraska, the Department of Agriculture regulates the pesticide application program.
The Crop Chemicals class is part of the core curriculum for both agronomy and diversified agriculture majors seeking an associate of applied science degree from Northeast.
“The two-credit class is offered the second semester of the academic year for these freshmen, as well as sophomores deciding to take a second major,” he said. “Other ag majors may opt to take the class as an elective. Most of the ag students take the class.”
Noonan said a farmer or anybody who is part of the farming family can get by with a private pesticide applicator’s license, but to do custom work – such as a farmer wanting to bring more money into their operation off the farm – requires a commercial pesticide applicator’s license.
Today most ag cooperatives and agronomic businesses require their employees to hold a certified pesticide applicator’s license. Students in Northeast’s Crop Chemicals class who successfully pass the Nebraska Department of Agriculture’s private and commercial applicators’ license exams have an edge when applying for jobs.
The Crop Chemicals class opens with a focus on environmental safety and personal safety concerns. Then Noonan spends two weeks concentrating on the proper personal protective equipment required when handling and applying chemicals, such as gloves, goggles, masks and coveralls.
Noonan, who has farmed the past 39 years, said he’s seen firsthand the consequences of improper handling and usage of crop chemicals.
“I share a lot of (personal and other) stories in the class,” he said. “Today’s farmers are a lot more aware of chemical application safety, but things still happen – anything from death to blindness to serious chemical burns, as well as liver diseases and cancer, especially with insecticides.”
Noonan farmed with his father until he was 80.
“Dad was very cautious about safety, all across the board, but I know a lot of people didn’t, and there was a price to pay,” said Noonan, who has followed his late father’s strict safety stances.
The class also covers equipment calibration and chemical application methods. Noonan also stresses the need to thoroughly read the chemical product label. The information includes the legal requirements, safety precautions and application rates.
In addition, Noonan said he discusses managing pests with cultural practices, mechanical and biological management, with the use of insects, such lady beetles that prey on soybean aphids, and with the use of chemicals and pesticides as a last resort.
He said, “That’s the whole integrated pest management concept, using multiple methods to control pests.”
One class period is devoted to Atrazine usage, “a serious surface water pollutant in Nebraska,” said Noonan. “There are some serious problems in parts of the state.”
The class includes four exams, as well as “lots of homework,” Noonan said. “It keeps them busy.”
After eight weeks of study, the students take two Nebraska Department of Agriculture computerized examinations for commercial pesticide applicators’ licenses in the College’s testing center.
“Northeast has had a very high examination success rate – 94-95 percent,” Noonan said. “I’m always really pleased with how well the students do.”
Looking to the future, Noonan said, “In order to feed the world, we will need to use pesticides. I want to encourage my students to not harm themselves or the environment to produce that food supply. When that’s done correctly, everybody wins.”
PHOTO ID: Robert Noonan.