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Crop Dusting

“Crop dusting” doesn’t begin to describe the way the industry has developed since it began in 1921.  For one thing, most applications today are in liquid form, so the word “dusting” doesn’t say enough. For another, today’s aerial applicators do much more than their predecessors did. The best term for them might be “Crop Doctors,” because they must administer the proper, targeted treatment, at the correct dosage and time, to keep the plants healthy.

What is Aerial Application?

Aerial application is often the safest, fastest, most efficient and most economical way to treat a crop when pests or disease threaten it. By 2050 there will be 9.6 billion people on the planet. That’s 2.4 billion more mouths to feed comared to today. Aerial applicators perform many vital tasks such as:

  • Seeding crops and / or cover crops
  • Feeding or fertilizing
  • Protect crops with disease control products
  • Public Health Spraying
  • Forestry seeding, fertilizing, and protection
  • Firefighting
  • Weed Mitigation

That’s why…

There will always be a need for professional, well-trained ag pilots! For more information on careers in the ag aviation industry or to join NAAA for access to a network of aerial applicators nationwide contact us here.

Benefits

Why do we need crop protection products to grow our food and other crops? The world population continues to grow at a fast pace. Today there are 7.2 billion people, but it is estimated that by 2025 there will be 8.1 billion, with the estimated population in 2050 to be 9.6 billion. World food needs will double, but land area suitable for farming is not increasing. To produce future food, fiber and bio-fuels and leave
room for wildlife, we must increase production on the land we are now using. High-yield agriculture,
which includes the use of crop protection products, benefits the environment by producing maximum crop yields from a small amount of land.

Is it Safe?

All crop protection products must meet tough safety standards. Only one in 20,000 pesticides actually
survives the 8-10 year process of development, testing and registration by the U.S Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA). Costs to test a pesticide’s safety can range in price from $160 to $200 million.
Nearly 900 scientists and program officials from the EPA make sure that products are properly registered to comply with federal law. Once on the market, they are monitored by the EPA, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and state pesticide enforcement agencies. This stringent regulatory system ensures the safety of our food, the safety of the products to the environment, to water and to the farm workers that mix, load and apply the products.

Organics

Do agricultural pilots treat organic crops? Yes, organic farmers employ the services of aerial applicators on organic crops using approved organic pesticides to prevent any infestations from starting. Like conventional farming, timing is crucial and when spraying needs to be done for organic fields, it needs to be done quickly.

According to the National Organic Program (NOP), which is overseen by the USDA, organic crop pests, weed and diseases must be controlled primarily through management practices including physical, mechanical and biological controls. According to the NOP when these practices are not sufficient, a biological, botanical or synthetic substance approved for use on the ‘National List’ may be used. Substances that may be used include horticulture oils, sulfur, copper, pyrethrum, rotenone, Bt and Spinosad.

Aircraft

What kind of aircraft are used for aerial application? Today’s aerial applicators fly both helicopters and
fixed-wing aircraft especially designed for this purpose.  These aircraft range in price from $100,000
to $1.4 million. They are ruggedly built to handle 30 to 100 take-offs and landings every day from rough
landing strips and they offer protection and good visibility for the pilot. Today’s ag aircraft use sophisticated precision application equipment such as:

  • GPS (global positioning systems)
  • GIS (geographical information systems)
  • Aircraft Integrated Meteorological Measurement System (AIMMS)–real time
    meteorological systems
  • Flow control valves for variable-rate applications
  • Single-boom shutoff valves
  • Smokers to identify wind speed and direction

By the Numbers…

2700

Number of ag pilots in the United States

50+

Average age of ag pilots in the U.S.

71 million

Acres aerial applicators treat by air each year in the U.S.

8.1 billion

Projected world population in 2025, up from 7.2
billion in 2013

42

Number of aerial applicator operations in Colorado

85

aerial applicators that work full time in Colorado

25,000

Average number of flight hours at low altitude during a year

All terrain

Colorado’s applicators cover all of Colorado’s geographic terrain–production farmland, ranch land, state and federal lands, mountains, and waterways.