REDDING, Calif. — Tyler Maszk didn’t know exactly what he wanted to do for a career until his senior year in high school, when he interned with a pest control adviser.
He found he enjoyed working outside and helping farmers and nursery operators discover what’s ailing their crops.
Now he is one of about 10 students enrolled in a new program at Shasta College here, from which he’ll earn his state certificate to become an adviser himself.
“What we do affects so many people,” said Maszk, 19, a native of Woodland, Calif. “There’s so much you need to know. I just like the fact that you’re continually learning.”
Maszk and his classmates are involved in California’s latest push to replenish its corps of public and private pest control advisers, who recommend pest and disease management tools to agricultural and horticulture producers and can earn as much as $100,000 annually, according to a program news release.
The state has changed its requirement for a PCA certificate from a bachelor’s degree to 42 units of college credit, enabling Shasta and other community colleges to offer programs that are much cheaper than university degrees.
The change comes as 40 percent of California’s 4,000 PCAs are expected to retire by next year, creating a need for 1,600 new advisers to serve the state’s 80,500 farms and ranches, the release explains.
This is the first semester that Shasta has begun offering the courses, said Leimone Waite, a horticulture and plant sciences instructor who’s overseeing the program. The students must take 12 units of physical, biological and natural sciences, nine units of crop health, six units on pest management systems, six units on agricultural production systems, and another nine units of elective ag courses, according to the release.
Student Lindee Jones, 20, of Middletown, Calif., has two relatives who are PCAs and took part in a job shadow program. She likes being able to identify which pests are causing problems for plants, she said.
“I’m hoping to get an internship this summer,” she said.
Pest control advisers are becoming crucial as global trade, drought and other factors bring more pest pressure to crops. This season, citrus growers in parts of Tulare and Kern counties are grappling with strict shipping requirements under a quarantine for the Asian citrus psyllid, which carries the deadly tree disease huanglongbing.
Last summer, tomato growers in the San Joaquin Valley suffered widespread crop damage from the beet curly top virus, which is carried from plant to plant by the beet leafhopper and stunts growth. Dry winters cause the leafhoppers’ numbers to flourish, experts said.
Students seeking certification as PCAs come from different walks of life. Jillian Garcia, 33, of Cottonwood, Calif., went back to school after working as a hairstylist.
“I was just interest in horticulture … and was weighing out my options as to where in horticulture I wanted to work,” she said. “I think this is my passion, but I’m just starting off.”
California Association of Pest Control Advisers: https://capca.com