Much like the growers they serve, pest control advisers are aging, and a growing number are set to retire in the next few years.
The big question is who will replace these PCAs, which are crop consultants licensed by the state of California.
The Sacramento-based California Association of Pest Control Advisers has two programs designed to address recruiting younger people into their ranks.
One is designed to increase the interest of high school students in becoming PCAs; the other focuses on encouraging new PCAs to become members of CAPCA.
Of the approximately 3,000 members of CAPCA, about half are expected to retire in the next 10 years, says Terry Stark, CAPCA executive director.
CAPCA commissioned a survey of its members in 2010 to obtain a better demographic picture.
Of those responding to the Web survey, 40 percent said they were 55 to 64 years old, with another 9 percent 65 years or older.
That compares to a similar study conducted in 2006 that showed 29 percent of members were 55 to 64 years old, with only 1 percent 65 years or older.
Even more telling was that 53 percent of the respondents said they planned to retire within 10 years.
As a result or earlier surveys, CAPCA's Stanley Strew Educational Fund Inc. launched the Pathway to PCA program to try to educate high school students about the rewards of a career in agriculture, says Shannon Douglass, program coordinator who's based in Orland, Calif.
More specifically, Pathway to PCA touts the merits of becoming a pest control adviser, she says.
The program has increased the number of agricultural graduates seeking PCA licenses to about 135 from the former 75 to 80 annually, Stark says.
But the program can be a double-edged sword.
Some students who receive an appropriate degree go into other sectors of agriculture, such as working in a winery, rather than seeking a PCA license.
Stark credits the economic recession with driving some former PCAs, who may have relocated outside of agriculture, back into the industry.
Until the economy recovers more, he says some sectors, such as nurseries, won't be adding additional personnel.
With about 150 PCAs retiring every year, the industry will have a net loss of 250 to 300 PCAs 10 years from now.
And with those retirements also goes a loss of decades' worth of knowledge, Stark says.
"There's not so much a deficiency in the numbers but in the expertise of those numbers," he says.
Once those students graduate from college with a degree in the appropriate sciences and pass the California state PCA licensing exam, another program is afoot to try to recruit them to become active CAPCA members, says Rick Foell, a PCA with Oro Agri Inc.
"Everybody thinks CAPCA just tracks your [CEU] hours, but we do a lot more," says Foell, who sits on the board of the CAPCA Central Valley chapter.
He says many local association board members believe new blood and new ideas are needed.
The first step will be inviting new PCAs to attend the local chapter meetings.