(Information obtained from NAAA’s “Why? Because” Brochure)
What are the advantages of aerial application?
Aerial application is often the safest, fastest and most efficient, and most economical way to get the job done. Aircraft help in treating wet fields and spraying when crop canopies (i.e., orchards) are too thick for ground rigs. When pests or disease threaten a crop, time is critical. An airplane or helicopter can accomplish more in one hour than ground equipment can in one day. This means less fuel used, less air pollution and no soil compaction. Aircraft are necessary to low or medium-tillage farming systems, which can reduce soil erosion by as much as 90%. Aerial application provides food, fiber and bio-fuels for the world's growing population and protects our natural resources.
Why do we need crop protection products to grow food and other crops?
The world population continues to grow at a fast pace. Today there are 6.6 billion people, but it is estimated there will be more than 9 billion people by the year 2050. 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 benefits the environment by producing maximum crop yields from a small amount of land.
Like the human body, all plants need proper nutrition and protection from diseases and pests to attain maximum growth. This is true regardless of the farming system.
"Pesticides are a key part of modern agriculture, contributing to the dramatic increases in crop yields achieved in recent decades. Pesticides are used in both organic and conventional farming. Through the use of pesticides, farmers are able to produce crops profitably in otherwise unsuitable locations, extend growing seasons, maintain product quality and extend shelf life. In fact, it's better pesticide science that has allowed North America to triple its food production while maintaining the same amount of forest cover as existed a century ago," said Dr. Patrick Moore, Greenpeace Co-Founder and Chairman and Chief Scientist of Greenspirit Strategies.
Is it safe to use crop protection products?
All crop protection products must meet tough safety standards. Only one in 20,000 chemicals 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.
The American Cancer Society states:
"Many kinds of pesticides are widely used in agriculture in the production of our food supply. People who eat more fruits and vegetables, which may contain trace amounts of pesticides, generally have lower cancer risks than people who eat fewer fruits and vegetables. Pesticides play a valuable role in sustaining our food supply. When properly controlled, the minimal risks pesticides pose are greatly overshadowed by the health benefits of a diverse diet rich in foods from plant sources."
Aerial application helps make it possible for us to have these fresh fruits and vegetables year round. Pesticide use has resulted in increased availability and a variety of low cost, fresh fruits and vegetables year round. This has had significant impact on human health because there is strong evidence that increased consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables is associated with a reduced risk of chronic disease, including many cancers. Crop protection products also play a role in enhancing the safety of the food supply by reducing levels of natural toxins, such as mycotoxins and reducing the potential for contamination of fresh produce by food borne human pathogens.
Do agricultural pilots treat organic crops?
Yes, organic farmers employ the services of aerial applicators. Because organic spraying is preventative, aerial applicators spray organic crops with approved organic pesticides almost daily 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, weeds and diseases must be controlled primarily through management practices including physical, mechanical and biological controls. Also according to the National Organic Program, 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.
According to former USDA Secretary Dan Glickman:
"The organic label is a marketing tool. It is not a statement about food safety. Nor is organic a value judgment about nutrition or quality. Organic is about how it is produced. Just because something is labeled as organic does not mean it is superior, safer or healthier than conventional food. All foods in this country must meet the same high standards of safety regardless of their classification. For nutrition information, look at the nutrition label. And as for quality, that is a matter of personal preference."
Why is it called aerial application instead of crop dusting?
Because “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 treatment, at the correct dosage and time, to keep the plants healthy.
In addition to controlling insects, weeds, and diseases that threaten crops, they perform many other vital jobs. Aerial applicators "plant" seed from the air into flooded rice fields; spread rye grass seed in cornfields prior to harvest to prevent soil erosion; and they fertilize and add nutrients to soil for healthy crops and forests. Aircraft are also used to help clean up oil spills in the ocean and harbors, feed fish, protect human health by controlling flies and mosquitoes that carry harmful diseases. They protect our natural resources by reducing disease and pest infestations in forests and other areas inaccessible by ground equipment. Aerial application aircraft are also an important tool in fighting fires and preventing fires from spreading.
What kind of aircraft are used for aerial application?
Today’s operators fly both helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft especially designed for this purpose. These aircraft range in price from $100,000 to $1,400,000. 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 aircraft utilize sophisticated precision application equipment such as GPS (Global Positioning Systems), GIS (geographical information systems), flow controls, real time meteorological systems and precisely calibrated spray equipment to make sure the pilot is accurate in applying the correct amount of product onto the crop. On the ground, the airplanes are loaded by workers uniformed in protective clothing using closed mixing and loading containment systems to ensure safety to the environment and the worker.
What are agricultural pilots like?
Aerial applicators are highly-trained professionals who have made a very large investment in their business. Like all Americans, they are concerned with human health, the environment, security and performing their job in a responsible manner. More than 90% own their own business and operate their aircraft. The average aerial applicator has over 20 years experience in the industry, but a number of new agricultural pilots enter the aerial application industry each year. Many of these operations are family businesses with family members responsible for aspects such as product mixing, aircraft maintenance, refueling, bookkeeping, work scheduling, weather monitoring, field scouting, and customer relations.
Who regulates aerial applicators?
The professionals who apply crop protection products operate under the watchful eye of federal and state agencies. These agencies have at the top of their lists public health and worker safety and environmental protection. They include the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Department of Transportation (DOT) and individual State Departments of Agriculture, Ecology and Environment.
Regulatory personnel inspect operations and require strict and specific documentation of each field sprayed. These same agencies continually monitor environmental and public health to assure that we continue to have the safest, least expensive, and most abundant food supply in the world.
What is the industry doing to ensure security?
Although the aerial application industry had security measures in place before the tragic events of 9/11/01, the National Agricultural Aviation Association and its membership have aggressively promoted enhanced security procedures developed in the wake of 9/11/01.
A few security measures pertaining to the ag aviation industry include: comprehensive background checks by local, state and federal agencies; the development of site security operation plans in compliance with the DOT; and installation of hidden security switches to prevent unauthorized startup of the aircraft.
The aerial application industry continues to work closely with local, state and federal officials and we are committed to doing everything we can to help government officials make sure that public safety concerns do not deprive the American people of the benefits they receive from agricultural aviation.
What is the industry itself doing to ensure safe application?
From the beginning, the aerial application industry has strived to improve equipment and techniques to provide for accurate and effective delivery of products to crops. In the 1960s the National Agricultural Aviation Association (NAAA) was established to foster industry development to the highest standards. NAAA developed the Professional Aerial Applicators Support System (PAASS) to educate pilots about safety, security and drift mitigation. PAASS is committed to reaching every aerial applicator in the U.S. with the latest information regarding these issues. In addition, the NAAA works with the federal government to invest in researching, developing and testing aerial application technologies to strengthen the safe application of crop protection products by air.
What if I’m interested in becoming an ag pilot?
Being an ag pilot is one of the most exciting jobs in aviation. It requires tremendous skill and precision. If you enjoy aviation video games or enjoy the outdoors and rural living, you may be a perfect addition to the agricultural aviation industry. It's not an easy job, it takes a significant amount of training and the hours during the busy flying season can be long. But it is a fulfilling job. Ag pilots provide an essential service to farmers, foresters and the public at large. Ag pilots love their ability to soar through the skies in beautiful and serene farm country. In many areas across the country it is also a seasonal job, which can allow for other leisure or professional opportunities during the off season. Click here to read an article about mentoring in the aerial application industry.
So, to sum up...
Today's industrial manufacturers use the latest technology, from websites and computers to robotic equipment, to remain competitive and productive. Technology has also transformed American agriculture, increasing the grower's ability to produce abundant, safe, and affordable food, fiber and bio-fuel for the world. The aerial application industry is among the leaders in this technology—providing an essential service to help preserve our natural resources and protect public health. Aerial application of crop protection products is an essential tool for American farmers.