Aerial application (aka crop dusting) is the process of spraying a crop with a pesticide or herbicide from an aircraft. Ag pilots may also spray seeds, conduct aerial surveys, or spray marshy areas to supress insect population e.g. mosquitos.
The aerial application industry refers to the business of crop dusting and other aerial applications, such as fertilizer spreading, seed planting, and frost protection. The industry has grown tremendously since in the early days of nearly 100 years ago when the first commercial dusting was pioneered. Today there are thousands of pilots involved in commercial dusting in the United States alone.
While still often referred to as crop dusting the term ag pilot and aerial applicator is now preferred, thus crop dusting pilots are now aerial applicators of crop protection products. Research has revealed that the application is best applied at certain points in the crop’s growing cycle e.g. at the VT stage for corn. Droplet size and flow controls are also important when taking the crop and the the risks that are to be mitigated into account.
The Crop Dusting Industry
The aerial application industry is vital to agriculture, as it allows farmers to protect their crops from pests and diseases. Crop dusting is also used to control weeds, and to spread fertilizer and other crop inputs.
Aerial applicators in the USA must be licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). They must also have a valid pilot’s license, and pass a written exam about aerial application procedures.
The industry is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which sets standards for the use of insecticides and other chemicals. Aerial applicators must follow these standards to ensure that they are not harming the environment or people.
Aerial applicators must also take care to avoid sensitive areas, such as schools, hospitals, and homes. They must also avoid flying over people, animals, and vehicles.
The industry is a safe and vital part of agriculture. It plays an important role in crop protection, and in providing other benefits to farmers.
Crop Duster Planes
Crop dusting airplanes are typically small, single-engine planes. They are equipped with a hopper that holds the pesticide or herbicide, and a long boom that extends from the back of the plane. The boom is equipped with nozzles that release the pesticide or herbicide onto the crop.
Crop dusting planes fly at low altitudes, and they must be carefully calibrated to ensure that the pesticide or herbicide is applied evenly across the crop. They typically fly in a grid pattern, so that every part of the crop is covered.
Crop dusting aircraft are operated by licensed pilots, who have undergone special training in aerial application procedures. The pilots must also take care to avoid sensitive areas, such as schools, hospitals, and homes.
Crop duster planes are an essential part of the agricultural industry, and they play a vital role in protecting crops.
Crop Duster Drones
Aerial applicators are now using drones to dust crops with pesticides and herbicides. Drones are a safer and more efficient way to apply pesticides, and they can reach areas that are inaccessible to crop dusters.
Drones are equipped with cameras that allow the pilot to see the target area, and they are also equipped with GPS systems that help the pilot navigate to the target area.
An agricultural aircraft is any aircraft that is designed primarily for agricultural purposes. It could be fixed wing, rotary wing, or UAV (drone).
Crop Dusting School
There are many schools that offer crop duster pilot training. Some of the best known schools are the Agricultural Aviation Service in Stockton, California, Purdue University’s School of Aviation and Technology in West Lafayette, Indiana, and the National Agricultural Aviation Association (NAAA) in Shawnee Mission, Kansas. These schools offer courses on aerial application procedures, aircraft maintenance, and crop science.
Ag pilots are taught how to carry out aerial application efficiently to cover more acres per gallon of fuel, the importance of drift mitigation, flow controls, and aerial application droplet size for optimal results during their aerial work.
Crop Duster Salary
Crop duster pilots make a good salary. They need to have a pilot’s license and pass a written exam about aerial application procedures. They must also follow Environmental Protection Agency standards to make sure they are not harming the environment or people. Most crop duster pilots make between $30,000 and $50,000 per year.
Crop Dusting & Water Bombing
Ag pilots can be called upon to fly as water bombers. I recall watching a brush fire on the Greek island of Kephalonia being tackled in this way.
Crop Dusting Accidents
Flying at low level will inevitably involve a certain amount risk that can only be mitigate with intensive training and experience. Flying over so close to the ground requires quick reactions to avoid power lines and other obstacles. There have been a few accidents over the years but these should not detract from the high safety standards maintained by the pilots of today.
- Crash into a house in Illinois in 2013, killing the pilot and two people inside the house.
- Crash into a soybean field in Minnesota in 2014, killing the pilot.
- Crash into a cornfield in Nebraska in 2015, killing the pilot.
- Crash into a tree in Iowa in 2016, killing the pilot.
Crop Dusting Jobs
Some examples of jobs within ag aviation include:
- Ag pilots (fixed wing aircraft or helicopters)
- Ag pilot (drone)
- Ag pilot instructor
- Crop consultant
- Agricultural scientist
- Supplier of agricultural materials
- Employee of an ag aviation service
Crop Dusting History
The aerial application of pesticides and herbicides from powered aircraft began in the 1920s. Prior to that, in 1906, a New Zealander by the name of John Chaytor had experimented with the idea using a hot air ballon with mobile tethers attached.
The first crop duster pilots were known as “agricultural aviators.” They were men who had served in World War I, and they had experience flying airplanes over battlefields. When they returned to the United States, they found work spraying crops with pesticides and herbicides.
The first crop duster planes were modified surplus war planes, and they were not very effective. The first successful crop duster plane was the Ayres Thrush, which was designed specifically for aerial application. The Thrush had a hopper that could hold 500 pounds of pesticide, and it could cover an acre of land in just two minutes.
The crop dusting industry has grown significantly since the 1920s as more crop protection products and application technologies have evolved thanks to relevant research. There are now more than 10,000 ag pilots in the United States, and they spray more than 1 billion acres of crops each year.
Crop areas prone to weeds and pests have benefited from the controlled aerial application of dry chemicals, although today there are concerns about the ag application of such substances used to control pests in particular.
Aerial work of this type in agriculture has its limits. The aerial application of crop protection products can do nothing to solve other problems common in crop production such as soil compaction.