Hundreds of licensed pesticide applicators and the Illinois Department of Agriculture’s (IDOA) Bureau of Environmental Programs pivoted when COVID-19 restrictions shuttered in-person training and testing.

As of May 20, IDOA reported nearly 500 requests for online exams and the issuance of more than 300 provisional licenses, Doug Owens, bureau chief, told FarmWeek.

Individuals may take online exams on a variety of devices, and IDOA receives their test results automatically, Owens said. In comparison, paper-and-pencil exams involved darkening answer bubbles and required more time to assess results.

“People are extremely happy” with the online process, especially individuals who needed to be newly certified, Owens said.

IDOA and University of Illinois Extension jointly administer pesticide applicator training and testing clinics that were canceled through May. Earlier, IDOA extended through Dec. 31 the licenses of those who held licenses and wanted to be retested. “That (extension) took off a lot of the demand and relieved the pressure for us,” Owens said.

Then, IDOA’s information technology department developed a new online option for unlicensed individuals who needed an exam, Owens said. He reported the Microsoft form has worked well and can be completed on laptops and mobile phones.

IDOA offers 12 exams, including a general standard exam and 10 combination categories, such as field crops and turf. IDOA also offers private applicator exams for farmers and growers. To take an exam, email agr.clm@illinois.edu.

Owens explained IDOA’s program sends an email with a link for specified tests, which the individual can open. IDOA automatically receives scored results. The agency sends individuals who pass their results a provisional license; those who fail receive links for study documents along with their results, Owens explained.

While individuals seeking an applicator license must pass an exam, those without licenses who want to be operators do not have a 2020 testing requirement. Owens noted operators must work under the direction of a certified applicator and receive general pesticide training. The supervising applicator must be certified in each category applicable to the pesticide use.

Links to training videos, such as agricultural worker and handler safety training, are available here.

For information about online testing and procedures, IDOA offers a page with frequently asked questions.

For individuals preparing for the general standards exam, a private applicator course online may serve as a substitute. A new workbook created for this purpose is available. Registration and a $15 fee are required. For information, click here. Study manuals and workbooks may be ordered here.

While the online option has worked in the current situation, Owens said, “Paper-and-pencil exams will still be our bread and butter.” If IDOA offers online exams in the future, the bureau chief speculated a different system would be needed to handle a higher volume of exams.