What Role Does Ag Aviation Play in Producing a Local Commodity?

2021 Support Scholarship Contest: First Place Essay

By Dalton R. Wright, 2021 NAAA Support Scholarship Contest winner

On any given summer day, you can drive by a field and see the massive tractors slowly rolling across the dirt with a trail of dust behind them. They are the tool of choice for many farmers. 

These expensive pieces of equipment can be of great service to a farmer and once were the only tool of the trade. Often they seem to be a cost-saver. The farmer can operate them themselves and some choose to do so rather than pay for an airplane. From the farmer’s point of view, using an airplane used to be the last resort. They were deemed an expensive choice. 

So why should farmers choose to use an airplane at all, and why has the outlook on utilizing ag aviation changed? It’s not because they look cool zooming across the sky, although they do. It’s because the plane is simply the best decision for the farmer, and over the years, research has proven this. With the never-ending need to increase production on land that is not increasing, an airplane makes sense. It increases productivity, is more efficient and conserves the valuable land used to farm, which is priceless.

Ag aviation plays a critical role in producing local commodities. A multitude of crops such as rice, corn, wheat, tree crops, beans, peanuts, watermelon, alfalfa, milo and cotton all benefit from ag aviation in a number of ways. Ag aviation increases the yield of the local commodity, allows for the product to be grown more efficiently, and saves resources while increasing production.

As in any industry, being able to produce a large amount of product for the lowest cost results in more revenue for the business owner, in this case the farmer. Obviously, this has a direct impact on the economy in the community as well. Aerial applications have been proven to increase yield and reduce the cost of producing commodities. Purdue University did a two-year study called “Managing Fungicide Applications in Soybean.” In this study, they determined that wider rows were needed to increase yield and avoid damage from ground rigs. 

In a more significant study, “Agriculture, Aerial Applicators and Airports,” the data supporting the use of aircraft in agriculture is overwhelming. In this study, when crops were treated with the airplane, the yield damage was zero. That’s right, not one crop was damaged by the aircraft. However, when ground equipment did the spraying/fertilizing, 6,366,000 bushels were lost. That has a huge impact on production and the bottom line, with a loss of $25,464,000 and a lot less corn, soybeans and wheat in the marketplace. 

In order to avoid such loss, a farmer has to purchase implements that are extremely expensive or plant less crops (due to the size of the rows). An ag plane can address this problem and save the farmer money while increasing the local commodities, thereby putting more money in the farmer’s pocket and in the communities where the farmer lives, not to mention producing more crops for the population.

The world food supply is growing rapidly, but the land used [for crop production] has not increased. One way to increase the production of crops while not increasing land is to take care of the soil and the crops. Ag aviation has provided effective solutions to improve crop health using fungicide and pesticides. Ag aviation has proven to improve the production of crops and increase the yield. Aerial applications allow the crop to be cared for more efficiently. Ag aviators are able to cover large areas quickly and can do it with no damage to crops. This is particularly important if there is a direct threat to the crop, such as a fungus or bug. They can treat a number of issues at once and can do so regardless of field conditions. In circumstances like bug and fungus outbreaks, time is of the essence and critical to save crops. The average airplane moves across the field between 125 and 150 mph. The ground rig averages 25 mph. When time is of the essence, this is a no-brainer.

Weather also has a direct impact on commodities and treating them. If it rains, aerial application can still take place. In rice, it’s essential after flooding occurs. Rice cannot be sprayed or fertilized with ground rigs after flooding occurs, so planes are critical to the success of the crop. If the ground is too wet and the window for planting is closing in, ag aircraft can plant crops through aerial seeding. This often is time-sensitive and ground rigs just do not work.

When you think of airplanes, you typically think of the sky. What if I told you that airplanes are good for the ground and therefore increase production or commodities? It’s true. According to the University of Illinois, “Soil erosion is a major challenge in agricultural production. It affects soil quality and carries nutrient sediments that pollute waterways. While soil erosion is a naturally occurring process, agricultural activities such as conventional tilling exacerbate it.” 

Each time farmers drive equipment through the field, they risk compacting the soil, which also impacts production. The University of Minnesota has studied the impact of heavy equipment running across the ground on crops. Compacted soil has difficulty absorbing water and draining it. It results in roots having more difficulty penetrating the soil, which has a direct impact on plant growth. Soil compaction can also result in decreased nutrient uptake. All of these factors can reduce yield up to 60%. This is especially important considering the increase in the need for the food supply to grow. If we are not taking care of the soil used and the amount of farmland is not increasing, we must conserve the soil available for crop production.

Ag aviation is absolutely critical to the yields a farmer is able to produce, the efficiency of which crops are sprayed or fertilized, and the conservation of the soil. Without aviation, we would not be able to feed the world and keep up with the growing demand from the population without increasing food costs. 

Works Cited


Dalton R. Wright is the son of Jiles and Chris Wright. His father is a pilot at Woolard Flying Service in Corning, Arkansas. Dalton has always loved aviation and has early childhood memories of going down dirt strips to see his dad fly. As the son of an ag pilot, airplanes and flying became second nature to Dalton, who knew early on that he wanted to work in agricultural aviation. Dalton is currently enrolled in his first year at Arkansas Northeastern College, working toward his aircraft and powerplant certificate and associate degree. He is studying to be an A&P mechanic because he has always enjoyed fixing things. Dalton graduated from Pocahontas High School in Pocahontas, Arkansas, in 2021. He shoots Cowboy Fast Draw in his spare time and enjoys hanging out with his family and dog Tank.