It’s that time of the year where we are going to start seeing those yellow (not always seen as yellow) airplanes flying around from field to field from sun-up to sun-down. What was once known as crop dusting is now referred to as Aerial Application and they for sure have a great importance to boost plant and field health. Here are 5 fast facts about the agricultural aviation industry that you should know!

  1. Airplanes weren’t the first mode of aerial application

A hot air balloon with mobile tethers, flown by John Chaytor in 1906 in Wairoa, New Zealand is the first recorded aerial application flight. It was said that John flew over a swamped valley floor and spread seed over it.

  1. Ag Pilots are in high demand but require a lot of aviation training

Those pilots in those airplanes are not the same ones that take you to your favorite vacation spot. Though both require extensive amounts of training, agriculture pilots have to go through specific agriculture training that not most commercial pilots have. To become an ag pilot you have to get your private pilot license, a commercial rating, a tail-wheel airplane endorsement, and more agriculture training. They also go through extensive pesticide and entomology training use as well.

  1. Hefty price tag

Those airplanes that buzzing around aren’t just something that can be cheaply replaced. Planes used for aerial application can range in price from $100,000 to $1.5 million. Many of these pilots that fly them on average have over 20 years of experience and over 94% of them own their own business.

  1. Pilots are pretty tech savvy

There are not just a steering council and paper maps in those airplanes. Plenty of high-tech GPS, GSI, flow controls, and well-calibrated spraying equipment is in them. Lots of time and training goes into knowing what and where controls are.

  1. There are two main products being applied

Though all aerial application planes can be used to spray water on wildfires and etc., the ones you see here in Illinois are usually applying insecticides and fungicides. Insecticides are used to control insects in the fields and fungicides are used to kill and/or control fungi or fungal spores.  Without spraying for these things fields can get out of control and produce a lower quality product and a lower yield.

Though those yellow planes are super fun to watch fly low onto the fields, please always remain cautious and not get too close to those fields being treated. To all the Ag pilots out there, have a safe and happy application season!

Abby Jacobs
Illinois State University

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