1st Place: 2012 WNAAA Scholarship Essay Contest

Stewards of the Sky, Stewards of the Land:
Environmental Awareness in Agricultural Aviation

How often do major corporations explain the importance of valuing the environment? Every day, these corporations give us new knowledge on the environment’s impact on our world. For example, Gerber shows us the environmental influences that are imposed on our children, and Toyota explains the environmental importance of conserving gasoline. Every major market is influential in supporting environmental awareness. It is now more important than ever for those involved in agricultural aviation to also be aware of the environment, its changes, and how to meet its strict demands.

Agricultural aviation has always been a large part of my life, since I grew up on a farm with parents who established an aerial application service. One thing I have noticed during the years is the shift of consumers’ attitudes on the idea of environmental safety and health. For example, I am a current graduate student at Texas Tech University, and I have had numerous conversations with individuals within my program who have common misconceptions of what is “good” for their personal health and the world’s environment. They refer to aerial pilots as people who harm the environment and health of others. Many are surprised to hear that if aerial pilots did not do their jobs, the world would not have sufficient foods or clothing.

What many individuals do not know is that under national, state, or local government contracts, agricultural aviators employ their aircraft to perform varied services that are essential to the nation’s well-being. Ag pilots are involved in public health programs, including mosquito abatement; controlling fire, insects, and disease in forests; eliminating cultivated and wild illegal plants; and environmental cleanup such as oil spills. This aspect of environmental awareness maintains the health and safety standards to which the American public is accustomed.

To me, environmental awareness in agricultural aviation is not only internal, but external as well. Below is a diagram I created to show the environmental influences and impacts imposed on aerial pilots:

Essay Graphic

This diagram shows that it is the aerial pilot’s responsibility to meet the strict demands imposed on them. For example, in order for our farmers to meet the growing demand for food, the aerial applicator must first apply pesticides effectively and efficiently. That, in turn, equips the farmer to provide food for America’s tables. In order to do that, aerial applicators must follow the label guidelines and manage drift activity. It is also crucial for aerial applicators to educate themselves on meeting the growing demands for food and environmental awareness. Once that is accomplished, we can then educate others on the irreplaceable nature of the aerial applicator’s job.

A big hurdle I see concerning agricultural aviation is the debate over organic farming. Consumers will always have the option to buy organic foods, but many consumers are ignorant about the topic of organic foods because no one has taught them otherwise. These individuals have the common misconception that pesticides are not used in organic farming. Many also think that pesticides and other chemicals are harmful to their environment and health. They do not know that chemicals are necessary in order for farmers to provide the world with sufficient foods.

Another common misconception is that pesticides on our crops are causing disease in humans and animals. What many people do not know is that aerial application is an important component in the production of food and fiber. Pesticides do not affect the plants; they eradicate the bugs that destroy the plants. Crop protection products distributed through aerial application are essential tools in the American farmer’s ability to produce the safest, highest quality, most abundant and lowest cost food in the world.

Another element of creating environmental awareness is identifying environment-friendly pesticides. When crop dusting began in the 1920s, new products were implemented. However, ongoing research and testing provided more user-friendly and less intrusive liquid pesticides. Today, many pesticides are derivatives of the environment and usage has become minimal. For example, the amount of pesticide needed to protect a tomato is less than the size of a raindrop. There is also a program within agricultural aviation in which aerial applicators will test and modify spray equipment and patterns, which will also assist in educating applicators in regard to drift management.

I believe environmental awareness should begin in the classroom. There should be more education within schools to explain the positive effects agricultural aviation has on the environment. Educational systems are beginning to teach students the importance of environmental awareness and “going green,” which is a step in the right direction. However, students should also be taught about the positive impacts agricultural aviation has on the environment. Just as we do with kids, we also need to educate adults on the issue of environmental awareness. Everyone, including individuals in the industry, should be educated further on the importance of environmental safety, effects, and demands.

By creating a higher public awareness of key environmental issues, we can play a proactive role in advancing knowledge and informing the public through effective application. Agricultural aviation plays a crucial and, in many cases, irreplaceable role in protecting not only crops, but forest land and pasture from damaging insects, weeds, and plant disease. This is also a means of protecting urban and suburban environments. If we promote environmental awareness within our industry as well as the public, individuals will not only be more aware of their environment, but they will respect and value agricultural aviation and its positive effects. ♥


2012 WNAAA Scholarship RecipientAmanda Cooper is the daughter of Roy and Sharla Cooper of Cooper Flying Service in Tarzan, Texas. She is a technical editor for the Texas Tech University Press. Before that, she received a Bachelor’s Degree in Technical and Business Writing from Angelo State University. Amanda is currently working on her Master’s Degree in Technical Communication from Texas Tech University in Lubbock, TX. When she graduates, she hopes to be a technical writer and editor.

2013 THEME: The Role Ag Aviation Has Played in Shaping My Life