Little action on recommendations for Iowa pesticide inspections

State Rep. Ross Paustian
State Rep. Ross Paustian

Concerns the Iowa State Auditor’s office identified in a 2012 audit, along with subsequent reports and recommendations for investigating Iowa’s pesticide-use violations, still linger years later.

Some issues noted in the various reports keep worries alive about how Iowa best can regulate pesticide spraying.

For example, the Iowa Legislature has not changed state law on some fees the state Department of Agriculture Land Stewardship Pesticide Bureau charges licensed pesticide distributors and applicators, an IowaWatch review of public records shows.

In other instances, applicators do not take continuing education classes in the same year they apply.

Licenses and certifications expire on Dec. 31, according to the code. But the 2012 audit showed that the pesticide bureau’s practice is to administer the continuing education for private applicator certifications between January and April — so applicators fail to meet the requirements of completing six hours of continuing education within the three-year license period.

It works this way: An individual who passed an exam and received an initial private applicator license in March 2016 could apply pesticides through December 2018.

If that person wanted to maintain the license through continuing education courses, he or she took courses when offered in the springs of 2017 and 2018.


But the last continuing education course is available now, in 2019, after the license expired for failing to complete the six hours before the license expired.

Taking the last two hours now is allowed by the pesticide bureau’s administrative code 21 IAC 45.22(5), which states that the renewal period for private applicators ends on April 15 of the calendar year following the expiration date.

‘Not something we get to choose’

After a state auditor’s report in the 2017, the bureau said changing the administrative rules would affect more than 23,000 people and the bureau’s education and certification programs, and would take more than a year to go into effect.

And there are explanations for some of the concerns. For example, applicators take continuing education after harvest and before the next spring’s planting season — during what is called the crop year, which runs Oct. 1 through Sept. 30 — instead of the calendar year when they apply for a license, as required by state law.

“It’s not that they don’t attend training,” said Gretchen Paluch, the pesticide bureau’s chief. “They do, and we hold those applicators to that standard. It’s just an inconsistency between a calendar date and a crop-year date.”

The original concerns were in a 2012 state audit of the pesticide bureau and in reports and recommendations to the Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship each year since.

The auditor reports said Iowa’s pesticide bureau should have more than one person to update applicator licenses and to oversee collection of inspection fees paid to the bureau.

Some of those fees, which cover a small part of the bureau’s operation, haven’t been raised for almost 30 years.

Paluch said a lot of the changes necessary to address the reports’ concerns would require statutory changes and are out of her bureau’s control. They include raising fees for bureau services or adjusting dates in the code to better work with the bureau’s practical schedule for recertification exams.


Thank you for signing up for our e-newsletter!

You should start receiving the e-newsletters within a couple days.

“That’s not something we get to choose,” she said. “That would have to pass at the Legislature.”

However, State House Agriculture Committee Chairman Ross Paustian, R-Walcott, said no legislation is pending to address the pesticide bureau in the 2019 session.

“IDALS (the Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship) or the pesticide bureau can request a bill, but I have not seen one yet,” Paustian wrote in an email to IowaWatch.

Although no bill is pending in the state Senate, either, Sen. Dan Zumbach, chairman of the Agriculture Committee there, told IowaWatch in an email he has had conversations with the agriculture and land stewardship department on what appropriate fee levels should be.

The pesticide bureau received 338 complaints for a variety of reasons, ranging from pesticide misuse to requiring information assistance, from Oct. 1, 2017, through Sept. 30, 2018. The bureau decided that 251 required on-site investigations of pesticide misuse during that time.

price tags and peacocks

The 2012 state audit also showed that the cost of operating the bureau exceeded fees the bureau charges for its work.

While the fees are not the bureau’s only source of income, the audit pointed out the fees had not changed since 1989.

A few since have increased — but income from all the fees, other than dealer license fees and registration fees for products, go to Iowa’s general fund, not the pesticide bureau.

“One of the things that the department and the Legislature should always look at is are those fees covering the cost,” Jim Cunningham, with the Iowa State Auditor’s office, told IowaWatch.

Fees for the pesticide bureau are set by law in Chapter 206 of the Iowa Code.


The bureau collects fees for commercial pesticide applicator licenses and certifications, dealers for pesticide retailers, registration of individual products that have to be registered at the state level, certification for private applicators who want to apply restricted use pesticides and civil penalties for misuse.

The bureau retained $43,350 in fees in fiscal 2018, which ended June 30, Dustin Vande Hoef, the agriculture and land stewardship department’s former communications director said. That was less than 2 percent of the bureau’s $2.6 million budget.

An additional 69 percent of the bureau’s budget came from the state general fund and 29 percent from a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant.

Vande Hoef said the bureau has in the past requested more funds from the state to support its budget, but little has been done to restructure how the pesticide bureau is funded.

“In general, the Legislature has not been interested in changing that structure, especially if there would be an impact on the state’s general fund,” Vande Hoef wrote in an email to IowaWatch, before leaving his position with the department on Jan. 4.

The maximum fine for pesticide misuse in Iowa, as stated by 45.102(4) of the Iowa Administrative Code, is $500, which Dennis Fett, an non-conventional farmer in Minden who raises peacocks, said is nothing more than a slap on the wrist.

Fett filed three pesticide spray-drift complaints with the bureau in summer 2018. The complaints are grouped by the pesticide bureau as one complaint case that has yet to be closed.

“They don’t have enough laws, or teeth in their laws, to discourage misuse,” Fett said.


Harsher penalties such as other states impose, could generate more revenue for the bureau, Fett said.

Nebraska’s Pesticide Act for example, issues a $15,000 maximum civil fine per occurrence of an incident violating the act’s rules and regulations.

Illinois’ Pesticide Act details a point system to issue fines between $750 and $10,000, determined by how the act is violated and what happened as a result.


A bill passed in the Iowa 2017 legislative session adjusted the cost of dealer license fees, which the pesticide bureau gets to keep. It also removed a part of the code that allowed dealer licensees to choose to pay one-tenth of one percent of their gross pesticide sales if they sold less than $10,000 in retail sales.

Now, these dealers must pay $10 for a license.

The bill also raised delinquent fees for licensing fees, from $10 to $25, or the cost of the original license fee if the gross pesticide sales are over $100,000.

Iowa Code 206 lists the following pesticide bureau requirements for applicator licenses and certifications. They have not been updated since the 2012 audit pointed out how old they are:

• Applicator license — A license of not more than $25, as determined by the secretary of agriculture and land stewardship. This was last updated in 1974.

• Applicator certification — For a commercial applicator, or someone who receives compensation for applying pesticides to another person’s property, $30 for a one year certification or $75 for a three-year certification.

For a public applicator, or someone who is employed by a governmental agency to apply pesticides, $10 for a one-year certification and $15 for a three-year certification. This was last updated in 1987.


• Private applicator certification — $15 fee for a three-year certification. This was last adjusted in 1989.

Cunningham said the agriculture and land stewardship department could take some steps to adjust its fees.

“They could present information that they have compiled to the Legislature to say these fees need to be changed,” he said.

“But it would be ultimately up to the Legislature to make that decision based on the input from the departments.”

• This story was produced by the Iowa Center for Public Affairs Journalism-IowaWatch, a nonprofit, online news website that collaborates with news organizations to produce explanatory and investigative reporting. Read more at The story was supported by the University of Northern Iowa-IowaWatch Science in the Media project.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.


Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.