Honorable Mention: 2011 WNAAA Scholarship Essay Contest

How to Promote Agricultural Aviation Positively 

A quick Google News search of “aerial application” will lend itself to nearly 10 pages of stories about pilots involved in crashes, accidental sprays and near death experiences. As someone who grew up around aerial application in rural Arkansas, these generic stereotypes do not begin to reveal the positive effects agricultural aviation has on our society.

While industry-insiders and those who grew up around aerial application know the positive implications of agricultural aviation, the majority of people in this country probably have negative ideas about what it is aerial applicators offer them. An anonymous citizen taking a bite of rice with his or her “authentic” Southern gumbo probably does not realize the number of people it took to get that bite onto the fork. Education is key in this industry in order to reintroduce to the masses what it is that aerial applicators do each day and how every person benefits from the work of the industry.

With the world population growing exponentially, the need to feed the growing populace is quickly becoming a problem that calls for even more agricultural production. Agricultural aviation is a necessity in high-yield crops, where the 1,625 aerial application businesses (agaviation.org) work to help farmers get the most of their acreage. According to an article from airliners.net by Gates Scott on April 13, 2009, increased production on the land already in use will be critical. The article also states that high-yield agriculture benefits the environment by producing maximum crop yields from fewer acres.

According to the AgAir Update by Bill Lavender, 15 percent of the country’s $150 billion of food and natural fiber production is attributed directly to agricultural aviation. With such a large percentage of our nation’s food supply directly associated with agricultural aviation it would be difficult to dispute the dire need for agricultural aviators. However, facts and statistics will only be successful at swaying naysayer’s opinions if they are able to hear the message.

Agricultural aviation education should go beyond press releases and news stories that only reach a demographic that already knows about and probably agrees with agricultural aviation. Television commercials would reach a wider audience and a demographic that does not pick up the newspaper or scan the Internet for the newest agricultural aviation news. Greeting people in their living rooms with the facts about agricultural aviation and how it affects their daily life will provide an opportunity to reach a group of people who may never think twice about agricultural aviation, except to bash its use of pesticides.

School visits by regional NAAA members would also provide an excellent opportunity for children from an early age to put a face and image to agricultural aviation. Instead of allowing children to be inundated with information from biased sources, explaining the facts to children could pique their interest in agricultural aviation and how it affects their daily life. Children could then go home to their parents and tell what they learned about agricultural aviation, opening the discussion to parents as well.

Only associating the production of agricultural products with farmers is common, however it only reveals a part of the larger picture. Shining a light on the other facets involved in agricultural production is just another step of educating the public about their food sources before they make judgments about the agricultural aviation industry. Broadening the view of food production from the farmer alone will open doors of curiosity and promote positive conversations.

With the growing popularity of all things organic, the use of pesticides has recently come under even more scrutiny. Hopping on the bandwagon of “going green” and only buying organically is a trend that many are joining before doing the proper research. According to the Scott article, “Without pesticide use, the world’s food supply would be reduced by 40 to 50 percent, resulting in an increase in food prices estimated at more than 50 percent.” In the current economic climate, the wallets of this country immensely feel every one-percent food price increase and a 50-percent increase in food prices would be an unbearable burden for the majority of this and other countries to bear. By facing the facts before making uneducated judgments, more people would be exposed to both sides of the story before turning their back on the industry that has been vital in filling their bellies.

The job market has also been headline news for months, even years. The Scott article includes a quote from the former Secretary of U.S. Department of Agricultural Dan Glickman. Glickman said, “During my international travels as Secretary of Agriculture, I saw firsthand how the thriving agricultural sector decreases poverty, increases national health, allows the state the reinvest in the sector and provides a better daily life for the people.” As the unemployment rate surges, it seems counterintuitive to not support an industry that has the capability to provide and promote employment opportunities in this country.

While agricultural aviation in the form of “crop dusting” usually takes center stage in the explanation of what it is agricultural aviators do, by highlighting the other missions of agricultural aviators it would diversify the industry in the public’s mind. According to agaviation.org, “Aerial applicators protect forestry and play an important role in protecting the public by combating mosquitoes carrying West Nile Virus, encephalitis and other diseases.” Removing the public stigma that agricultural aviation only infests food with pesticides is key. The focus must be redirected to the largely overlooked positive aspects of the industry, such as the fact that aviators are often dedicated to protecting the country’s forests, as well as protecting the public from deadly diseases.

Positively promoting agricultural aviation is undoubtedly done through education of the public and responding to the negative information made vastly available about the industry. An effective communications department is vital to recognize the massive amounts of “bad news” and provide information and what the industry is doing to correct any indiscretions and also reiterate the goal and purpose of the industry. Hopefully, this could lead to the next Google News search of “aerial application” to spill out pages of positive, industry-specific information that would provide another side to the story of agricultural aviation.

From the prairie land of the Delta to the forestry of the Pacific Northwest, agricultural aviation is an integral part of the nation’s economy and well being. Education and promotion of agricultural aviation will bring about acceptance and understanding of this essential industry. ♥

2011 WNAAA Scholarship Honorable Mention EssayistAbby Hartz is a graduate student at the University of Central Arkansas (UCA) in Conway, Ark. She also attended the university as an undergraduate, graduating in December 2010 with a Bachelor’s degree in Mass Communication with an emphasis in Print Journalism. Abby grew up in Stuttgart, Ark., and has been around aerial application all her life. Her father, Mark Hartz, is an agricultural pilot and co-owner of Grand Prairie Dusters Inc. in Almyra, Ark. She expects to graduate in May 2012 with a Master’s in Business Administration. Upon graduation she hopes to travel to China to teach English for a year upon graduation.

2012 THEME: Stewards of the Sky, Stewards of the Land: Environmental Awareness in Agricultural Aviation