Custom hay balers who apply preservatives containing propionic acid will soon have to be licensed as commercial pesticide applicators. But it looks like the licenses won't be needed this year.

Last July, the Environmental Protection Agency ruled that propionic acid is a pesticide, and asked manufacturers to change the labels on hay preservative products containing the acid. But no relabeling deadline was established, and most observers doubt that any of the new labels will show up until 2002.

“It's unlikely that there will be products registered and in distribution this year,” says Dave Frederickson, pesticide compliance director with the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture. “People have to be given the opportunity to comply.”

The labeling requirement pertains to regular propionic acid and buffered solutions of the acid. Custom balers don't need licenses unless the propionic acid products they use have pesticide labels, says Frederickson. Pesticide labels each contain an EPA registration number, an EPA establishment number and a signal word such as “caution” or “warning.”

Also, the new labels likely will state that protective clothing and eye protection are required, because propionic acid can harm the skin or eyes.

The licensing requirement applies to custom balers who bale for more than three growers or more than 500 acres in a year. Each cutting is counted, so if you bale three cuttings from 200 acres, you're going to be over the limit.

Getting a commercial applicator license involves taking a written exam and paying a fee. In some states, a pesticide business license and an additional fee also are required.

For more information, contact your state ag department or local extension office.