NAAA and the National Agricultural Aviation Research and Education Foundation (NAAREF) held their spring board meetings Feb. 17–18 at the Westin Alexandria in Alexandria, Va. More than a hundred board and committee members traveled to the nation’s capital region to deliberate on a wide range of important issues. The 2017 NAAA/Syngenta Leadership Training Program, also known as Leadership At Its Best, also met for three and a half days of intensive communications, advocacy and public speaking training.
AgAv PAC Breakfast
Before the Spring Board Meeting got underway, NAAA hosted a breakfast fundraiser for its political action committee, AgAv PAC. More than 100 PAC supporters turned out to hear Congressman Mike Conaway (R-TX), chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, speak about a variety of agricultural related issues. Among them, Congressman Conaway expressed a goal of reauthorizing the next farm bill before it expires Sept. 30, 2018, and providing regulatory relief to farmers. The day before, the chairman reported, the House Agriculture Committee marked up legislation exempting applicators from obtaining NPDES permits for applications of pesticides made over or near water that are already approved for water safety under FIFRA. Additional special guests at the breakfast included Agricultural Retailers Association President Daren Coppock and Senior Vice President Richard Gupton, and CropLife America Vice President Beau Greenwood.
NAAA General Session
NAAA welcomed another guest speaker at its opening General Session after the PAC breakfast: Rick Keigwin, the EPA’s newly placed acting director of the Office of Pesticide Programs. The Office of Pesticide Programs has jurisdiction over registering pesticides, developing pesticide label language, and enforcing their safe use. Keigwin spoke of the importance of the agency continuing to display transparent science in its risk assessments. He also discussed the pending court-ordered deadline facing the industry pertaining to making a reregistration decision pertaining to chlorpyrifos and reiterated that EPA currently has proposed to revoke all tolerances for the product. He also mentioned that EPA has deemed glyphosate a non-carcinogen, unlike the World Health Organization, and stated the agency is looking into the reregistrations of the pyrethroids and sulfonyl urea compounds. Keigwin also reported that the agency is still looking at revising its drift models. The agency is in the process of having its statistics peer-reviewed and then it will bring the results to the new administrator. The agency also continues to implement its drift reduction technology program. Keigwin did state, in answer to a question, that the agency does not tend to quantify its ecological decisions; rather, they tend to be made via judgement calls. He also stated that the frequency of misuse incidents tends to have a higher weighting or likelihood for restrictions to a pesticide product compared to a product having no or minimal misuse incidents.
After the EPA presentation, NAAA Executive Director Andrew Moore reported on the state of the association and the industry. With a Trump White House, Senate Republican majority and a Ranking Member of the Environment and Public Works Committee (Senator Carper (D-DE) that supports the legislation, Moore stated that agricultural interests are more optimistic about the likelihood of enacting NPDES pesticide general permit exemption legislation this Congress than ever before.
Moore also discussed the success NAAA had in getting EPA to soften some of the certification and training revisions under consideration for its newly revised “Certification Standards for Pesticide Applicators” rule. During the public comment period, NAAA called on EPA to reduce the recertification requirements for experienced ag pilots; in response, EPA agreed to let aerial applicators in many states be recertified every five years instead of every three years. The agency also removed language contained in the draft rule that designated aerial application as a “high risk” application method. The final pesticide applicators certification rule does have a minimum age requirement of 18 for commercial applicators that may be problematic, however.
Moore covered some other legislative items of interest, including tax reform efforts and negotiations over the tower marking law Congress passed last summer. It is likely a tax bill expected to be introduced this Congress could lower rates but also put in jeopardy some beneficial tax breaks for the ag aviation industry, such as five-year depreciation schedules that may now be raised. Moore also discussed opposition to the tower marking law passed last year by wireless infrastructure interests. The tower interests believe painting towers aviation orange and white is too expensive. They also raised safety concerns about the risk to the workers who would have to climb and paint the towers. As an alternative, NAAA proposed a cable ball stacking solution within the center framing that would be less expensive but still enhance visibility of towers to aerial applicators. NAAA is waiting for a response from the infrastructure interests. Congressional interests have urged the affected parties to come up with a solution that is acceptable to both sides.
Moore also discussed the growth of the UAV industry and NAAA’s participation in a number of federal advisory committees on drone safety. Participating in the advisory process may provide a forum for NAAA to push for technology requirements forcing UAVs to ground themselves and/or make their presence known via electronic tracking devices to manned aircraft when flying near them.
Beyond government relations, Moore discussed the new “Find an Aerial Applicator” database on NAAA website, which allows anyone looking for an aerial applicator to search for NAAA operator members by city, state and/or zip code and to define a radius distance. He also discussed a campaign to market this service and the industry in CropLife magazine or another publication of potential aerial application service buyers. NAAA exhibited at EAA’s half-a-million strong AirVenture general aviation fair in Oshkosh, Wis., last summer. Based on our success promoting aerial application as an occupation to pilots, NAAA will be back at AirVenture this summer. NAAA will also be at the ProJet Aviation Education & Career Expo in Leesburg, Va., this year.
In other association news, NAAA’s 50th anniversary convention in Long Beach ranked fourth in total revenue. This year’s event will be in Savannah. Memberships were down for 2016, but they still far surpassed membership numbers from a decade ago. Nevertheless, only half the nation’s operators and approximately 37 percent of the industry’s non-operator pilots belong to NAAA today. A significant membership push, including calling potential members is currently underway. All 2017 members will be provided with a DVD of NAAA’s 50th anniversary documentary outlining the association’s and industry’s history over the past half century. The DVD will contain several other special features as well, such as the Lifetime Achievement Award presentation honoring Dick Reade, NAAA’s first president.
On the safety front, Moore noted a puzzling paradox. The final total accident number of 60 for 2016 tied with 2006 for the lowest accident year in history. Sadly, 21.66 percent—13 of those—were fatal. NAAREF is focusing on addressing this with its safety programs.
Moore concluded by discussing challenges in the industry such as low commodity prices and potential trade disruptions of U.S. ag exports. In spite of the current short-term outlook, the industry’s long-term prospects remain strong. Moore expressed optimism about the growing world population and global middle class, as well as a growing role for ag aviation services. Two necessary components of precision ag are aerial imaging and crop sensing. That, in turn, could place more demand on aerial application and imaging as a result of saved input costs.
After the opening General Session, NAAA and NAAREF’s committees met for the rest of the day and the next morning before reconvening for the official NAAA Board Meeting Saturday afternoon, Feb. 18. Highlights from the board meeting are as follows:
While many of the government relations issues facing the aerial application industry were covered during the opening General Session, the Government Relations Committee revisited those topics and other matters during its meeting. Regarding the new EPA pesticide certification training revisions and the age 18 requirement for commercial pesticide application licenses, NAAA is considering petitioning to have the rule changed to allow minors over the age of 16 to work with chemicals, under supervision, if certified. Andrew Moore will be asking other commercial user groups if they would like to form a coalition to change this rule.
The committee discussed the status of crop protection product registration and reregistration issues and the drift limits that are currently being used by EPA to reregister products, particularly the upcoming review of chlorpyrifos. An ad hoc committee was established last year to look at EPA drift estimate methods. It was discussed that a meeting with the EPA should be scheduled soon with those responsible for the chlorpyrifos reregistration to try to ensure that aerial use is not unfairly targeted in the product’s reregistration. Currently, the agency plans to remove all tolerances for chlorpyrifos due to a lawsuit from environmental activists.
A letter from Louisiana board member Bradley Reed to NAAA regarding the similarity of crop protection product container markings also was discussed. Because so many chemical labels look similar, keeping them straight can get very confusing for applicators. The container issue letter was also discussed in the Allied Industry Committee meeting. One Allied Committee member commented that he has seen distributors deliver the wrong chemical for to the same reason. The Government Relations Committee will reach out to pesticide manufacturers about marking containers with various colors so errors aren’t made in identifying products.
Finally, in discussing UAVs, the Government Relations Committee suggested providing a letter or information to the public and in newspapers explaining the risk that flying UAVs poses to manned ag pilots.
More Committee News
The Budget & Finance Committee submitted a proposed budget for FY 2017–2018 that was subsequently approved by the NAAA Board of Directors. The new budget has a projected deficit of $250,000. Three main factors contributed to the projected shortfall: budgeting for increased expenditures without calculating revenue increases from those efforts, as well as additional staff and advertising expenses for industry promotion in agricultural trade publications. The Board of Directors also passed a motion submitted by Budget & Finance Committee to increase membership dues by 3 percent annually, rounded up by the next five dollars. The annual dues increase will begin with the 2018 membership year.
The Convention Committee reviewed the 2016 NAAA Convention and discussed plans for the 2017 convention Dec. 4–7 in Savannah. As in previous years, aircraft will be flown in behind the Westin and transported to the convention center on Dec. 3. The Westin Savannah Harbor, Hyatt Regency Savannah and Savannah Marriott Riverfront will serve as NAAA’s official hotels. Starting this year, the convention will no longer be referred to as the NAAA Convention & Exposition; the Convention Committee rebranded it as the Ag Aviation Expo instead.
The committee also discussed an idea to incentivize new and low-time ag pilots to attend the convention. The committee is developing a program whereby pilots with five or less years of experience, with the “sponsorship” of an NAAA operator member, would be eligible to receive a postcard with sessions that they must attend; the session speaker or another operator member assigned to that meeting would sign the pilots’ card, proving they attended the entire session; by attending all of the assigned sessions, the sponsored pilots would earn a discount on membership or the next year’s NAAA convention.
In awards news, the deadline to submit nominations for the 2017 NAAA Awards is Sept. 8. Award recipients will be honored at the convention’s Farewell/Awards Banquet, with Rod Thomas and Eric Klindt returning as the award emcees.
The Board of Directors also approved a motion authorizing NAAA to host future conventions in the following locations, on the following dates: Savannah: Dec. 4–7, 2017; Reno: Dec. 3–6, 2018; Orlando: Nov. 18–21, 2019; Savannah: Dec. 7–10, 2020.
In other committee news, one of the Long Range Planning Committee’s discussions was on UAVs. For the time being, the Long Range Planning Committee continues to mull the establishment of a membership category for aerial imaging and crop-sensing—work performed by UAVs, satellites and manned aircraft—because there could be work in the precision ag sector controlling input costs by using aerial images to help make such applications. A firefighting aerial category for Single Engine Air Tankers is also being considered.
The Insurance Committee is continuing to solicit information from underwriters regarding chemical claims. The purpose is to glean drift incident information from the underwriters for multiple years. Less than 50 percent have participated, but NAAA continues to work with underwriters to obtain this information. Full participation by the underwriters would help NAAA and NAAREF gauge how effective the PAASS Program has been at mitigating drift incidents.
GE Aviation and Thrush Aircraft have come forward with money to start a scholarship program. Since NAAA and BASF already offered a scholarship to develop new ag pilots, NAAA approached BASF about partnering with GE and Thrush. BASF was willing to partner and welcomed the additional funds. The Membership Committee decided to name the new scholarship the “Ag Wings of Tomorrow” Flight Training Scholarship. Beginning this year, there will be four $5,000 scholarships and one $2,500 scholarship available. Applicants will need to be sponsored by an NAAA Operator Member to be considered. The new application will be available soon.
The board also passed a motion from the Membership Committee agreeing to offer one free new Operator, Pilot or Support membership each year to any state or regional association that pays NAAA Organization membership dues.
The Museum Committee discussed working with other museums across the country but decided to concentrate on finishing the renovations at the National Agricultural Aviation Museum in Jackson, Miss., before working with other museums. Meanwhile, everything is on schedule for completion of the Hirsch-Carter S-2A memorial restoration project, and the aircraft should be in Savannah for NAAA’s 2017 Ag Aviation Expo.
The Research & Technology Committee reported that Matt Gill from the University of Illinois will be focus on gathering data on studies comparing ground and aerial applications once he returns from an overseas assignment.
Jody Hemler of the FAA was asked by the Safety & Federal Aviation Regulations (SFAR) Committee to report on the progress of the internal FAA working group working on updating Part 77, which covers tower identification and airspace safety issues. Hemler introduced Mike Helvey of the FAA Obstruction Evaluation Group who gave the report, which includes changes in the tower marking rules. He reported that they will be released sometime mid-year.
The SFAR ad hoc committee researching accidents investigations is working to better categorize ag accidents and find the root cause in order to cut down on accidents. It is identifying accident areas, such as when pilots move to a more complex aircraft, but the subcommittee is continuing to work on their investigations.
The Support Committee announced that the topic of the 2017 scholarship essay contest is “Your approach to creating a positive image of aerial application in your community.” The Support Committee will award a $2,000 scholarship as top prize in the essay competition, and Covington Aircraft Engines is providing a $1,000 scholarship. The deadline for the 2017 Support Scholarship Essay Contest is Aug. 15.
The Support Convention Committee discussed events for the 2017 Ag Aviation Expo. The 2017–18 Athena program will be tailored for women and men, including support staff and loaders. A new activity is being planned for the Sunday before the start of the convention, an event called “Pedaling for PAASS.” Each PAASS presenter will be in charge of a pedaling bar through Savannah. They have to find a sponsor for their pedaling bar, fill it with people, and each individual will be required to make a donation to the PAASS Program. Finally, the Support Committee encouraged NAAA’s state representatives to go back to their state boards and ask them to send a Support representative for each state. The Support Committee oversees several subcommittees charged with numerous responsibilities and is in need of reinforcements.
The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has asked NAAREF to use its expertise in mitigating accidents to other aviation areas than just aerial spraying—namely, animal damage control. That industry had a fatal accident last year and has put together a panel to investigate the accident. They have asked for someone from the aerial application industry to take part since the low-level flying they do is similar to what this industry does.
Under new business, Andrew Moore reported on a commercial for a personal injury attorney that aired locally in the Rio Grande Valley area of Texas during the Super Bowl. The commercial showed a young boy and migrant workers in a field with an ag plane spraying overhead. Moore contacted the attorney via Facebook and learned that the young boy depicted in the spot was the lawyer. The lawyer assured Moore that he would never sue an ag pilot. Moore provided positive PR on the lawyer’s Facebook page to help with any damage done by the commercial to our industry. It was good dialogue and highlighted the importance of being on social media to do damage control and counter negative posts about our industry.
With no further business to discuss, the board meeting adjourned on Saturday afternoon, Feb. 18. The next board meeting will be held Oct. 6–7 in San Antonio.
NAAA’s participants in Syngenta’s Leadership At Its Best program earned their graduation certificates after three and a half days of intensive professional development, including media training and appointments on Capitol Hill. Seventeen NAAA trainees were joined by participants from the Agricultural Retailers Association and the Independent Professional Seed Association. The leadership participants are shown here with Congressman Mike Conaway (standing in front of the flag), chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, at NAAA’s AgAv PAC breakfast.