State pesticide license rules tie landscapers’ hands

It’s tough for a landscaper to get a license to spray garden-variety pesticides on your lawn in New Hampshire, and that’s why at least some landscapers want to make it easier.

New Hampshire requires a combination of stringent education and experience requirements, as well as passing a test. Rich Kahn, the owner of Kahn Landscaping LLC in Wilton, says that he has been landscaping for at least six years and has a bachelor’s degree in engineering and a master’s in education, but “all that doesn’t count. I’m still not allowed to buy the Turf Builder at Home Depot and use it to get rid of your crabgrass.”

Kahn’s experience doesn’t count because he hasn’t been working in New Hampshire for five years under someone who already holds a supervisory license and his degrees are not among those listed in the regulation, like entomology or plant pathology. Thus he couldn’t even sit for the exam.

It didn’t make sense, he said, for him to give up his business and work for someone else for five years, just so he could spray Roundup around his customer’s bushes.

Kahn is not just a landscaper. He has run for governor and Congress as a Libertarian.

“I believe in as limited government as possible, and anything government should do, it should make sense,” he said.

So he contacted John Knowles, D-Hudson, who proposed skipping the experience and education requirements all together.

“If you can pass the test, and show you know what you are doing, why shouldn’t you be able to do it?” Knowles said.

That’s how they do it in Maine, said Mick Sheffield, a North Hampton landscaper.

Cheating the result?

Sheffield said that it is much more difficult to obtain a license in New Hampshire. Many landscapers start by mowing lawns out of high school and may work years and build up a business before they even understand there are licensing requirements, “so they aren’t going to stop what they are doing to do something else” in order to legally spray what have been doing anyway for years.

“You have to make the assumption that these regulations cause cheating,” said Sheffield.

Sheffield is past president of the New Hampshire Landscapers Association, but he says he was talking strictly for himself.

The association has discussed the issue, but not everyone agrees on a position. Those with supervisory licensing may support the status quo, while those without one oppose it. Sheffield has been on both sides. He had a license but let it lapse, and now subcontracts the spraying to someone without a license.

If the past is any guide, the Agriculture Department and its Pesticide Control Board will oppose the bill. They opposed it years ago, said outgoing Agricultural Commissioner Steve Taylor, but that was when more commercial applicators worked on farmland.

“Now that’s gone down, and you have commercial lawn care guys proliferating,” he said.

Taylor said that these landscapers have a point, and acknowledged that many of them work “outside the law.” But while rural Maine can afford “to be relaxed,” he said, New Hampshire, with its more densely populated southern tier, needs “a fairly high level of surveillance.”

“They’re probably right,” he said about the more innocuous kind of pesticides that most people use on their lawn. “But there are many products that are more toxic, and you can’t isolate which products you can use once you give out an application.”