Growing List of Studies Touts Aerial Application’s Yield Benefits

More and more evidence continues to be collected about the benefits of aerial application compared with other forms of application. Aerial application’s speed is obviously one attraction, which helps in quickly eradicating a crop threat. Aerial’s ability to treat in conditions and locales where other forms of application can’t is another one of its benefits. The ability to treat in multiple conditions also results in better timing, enabling the farmer to treat the crop at its most efficacious point regardless of field conditions. When excessive rain hits, farmers rely on aerial fertilizer and other crop input applications because it’s the only method available to access their fields.

With all those benefits stated, the research that continues to accumulate most readily on aerial’s benefits focuses on how it prevents runoff of essential topsoil and prevents soil compaction which can result in a less hospitable growing environment for a crop and reduce yields, nutrients and moisture.  

Higher yields are also due to aircraft treating above the crop canopy and not in the crop canopy where ground rigs can trample a portion of the crop, again ultimately reducing its yields. These studies are not only good news for aerial applicators to share with their current or prospective farmer-customers but also good news to help in developing a more friendly policy environment for aerial application. Industry sage Bill Lavender recently forecast that the agricultural aviation industry’s future will always be in demand because of the pressure to produce higher and higher yields. Lavender wrote that “environmentalists work in our favor when they protect forests and wetlands from cultivation … [because] we have to produce more food on less land. The best way to do that is incorporating ag aircraft in the plan for higher yields.”  

A handful of food companies, including Cargill, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Wal-Mart, made commitments to reduce their carbon footprints as part of a White House initiative to get the private sector to do more to fight climate change. As part of those commitments, these companies plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 5 percent and improve water and energy efficiency by the same amount over the next five years. High-yield agriculture using aerial application to maximize those yields will be a key component for these food producers and suppliers to meet their commitments.

Below is a summary of studies underscoring aerial application’s crop yield producing advantages and links to the studies themselves or webpages with additional details about the studies:

  • A Purdue University study shows ground applicator rigs damage approximately 1.5 to 5 percent of soybean crops. The study may be found here.
  • An analysis by Russ Gasper with the Nebraska Department of Aeronautics calculates a significant corn yield boost using ag aircraft. Using the aforementioned Purdue University study, Gasper used the same assumptions with corn damage in Nebraska and found that it costs the state 6,366,000 bushels of corn or approximately $34 million in economic activity annually. Gasper’s paper can be found here
  • A joint 2008 American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers study conducted by Bob Wolf, PhD, of Kansas State University, and Scott Bretthauer, PhD, of the University of Illinois shows an 18.6 bushel-per-acre yield increase in corn treated with fungicide compared with untreated corn. The study may be found here.
  • AgriNews, a Midwestern publication covering agri-business topics, ran a story about Illinois-based Schertz Aerial Spraying conducting research on aerial fertilizer applications. The results showed that applying ammonium nitrate during a soybean’s R2 full flowering stage increased soybean yields by 10 to 15 bushels over the 70-bushel base yield. Scott Schertz, the company’s owner, stated in the article that ag aircraft are well suited for late-timed fertilizer applications because they can deliver the product to the crop when it needs it the most without disrupting the crop or the field. The AgriNews article may be found here.
  • Another strong piece of academic evidence favoring aerial application stems from the University of Minnesota Extension’s website that has collected an assortment of research indicating soil compaction from ground rigs can negatively affect crop yields.  The conclusions made are that a moderate amount of compaction is desirable at seed time; however, too much under dry conditions can be detrimental to yield; under wet conditions any amount of compaction can decrease yields, as it results in nitrogen loss, reduced potassium availability and inhibition of root respiration due to reduced soil aeration. In addition, the research shows that excessive compaction decreases water infiltration and storage, decreases root growth, and reduces the soil volume explored by the roots all of which, again, can reduce crop yields. The University of Minnesota soil compaction information may be found by here.