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Low Volume Revolution

by Lucas Zanoni

Analyzing the aerial spraying industry in Brazil shows many similarities to the United States – a large number of aircraft flying over fields using the latest application and guidance technology to protect infinite crops from pests and disease. But there is one remarkable operational difference that stands out – while an American ag plane will be leaving a trail in the shape of a curtain, the pattern of a Brazilian ag plane is characterized by distinctive tracks.

During the last few years, the Brazilian ag aviation industry gravitated towards the use of rotary atomizer nozzles. There are many reasons: easier maintenance due to less equipment in the booms, versatility to calibrate different application rates and droplet sizes, more efficient coverage and better crop results and increased profitability for the operator.

Ag aviation operators in all parts of Brazil are increasingly adapting this type of technology. From the smaller aircraft (like Embraers, Cessnas and Pawnees) to the larger ones (AT-802, AT-802 and Thrush 710P and 510P), atomizer nozzles are used with a variety of products applied to a wide range of agricultural crops. In this article, we will share the recent history of some operators who have been leading the way in Brazil.

Serrana Aviação Agrícola and Balzan Family

Serrana Aviação Agrícola is one of the largest aerial applicators in South America, owning an expansive fleet of Air Tractors. The Balzan family’s company (who come from agricultural roots) was founded in 1998 and is located in the city of São Gabriel do Oeste (in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazilian Midwest). It provides services all over the country spraying sugarcane, soybeans, rice, cotton, corn and forests. Serrana is one of the ag aviation operations that have been pioneering the aerial firefighting program in recent years, working both with the Brazilian government and neighboring countries (see the January 2021 and October 2019 editions of AgAir Update’s sister publication, AerialFire).

Part of Serrana’s fleet of Air Tractors. Located in the Midwest region of Brazil, Serrana Aviação Agrícola is one of the largest agricultural aircraft operators in the world.

The company introduced the use of rotary atomizer nozzles back in the early 2000s, when it started working with application rates below 1 GPA (10 liters/ha). Over time, the application rates have been increasingly reduced and, in the last season, tests and applications of up to 0.05 GPA (0.5 liter/ha) were carried out on cotton. The company works with rates of up to 2 GPA (20 liters/ha) with atomizers, using the lowest rate for the application of insecticides and rates above 1 GPA (10 liters/ha) when working with loads that have several products and require a greater dilution.

A view of the headquarters of Serrana Aviação Agrícola in the Brazilian Midwest. The company has operations all around the country and has been helping Zanoni Equipamentos to develop application technologies for over a decade.
Caio is part of the second generation of the Balzan family in the company. A pilot since 2014, he flies in agricultural operations during the season and aerial firefighting during the dry months in Brazil.

Caio Balzan, a second-generation agricultural pilot, commented on some of the reasons that led them to utilize the rotary atomzier:

“The demand came from our customers and with the research, we realized that in addition to this type of application making the service faster and cheaper, the efficiency and the agronomic result were improving due to the high concentration of active product and better coverage. We are now able to achieve a wider swath width and a higher quality droplet spectrum when compared to conventional hydraulic nozzles”.

Bom Futuro and Tchecão

The Bom Futuro (“The Good Future”) group is one of the largest agricultural companies in the world. It cultivates more than 1.5 million acres (600,000 hectares) every year producing approximately 1.7 million tons of grains. Located in the state of Mato Grosso (in the Brazilian Midwest), it runs the largest crop-livestock integration project in the world, where over 130,000 beef cattle are raised.

Paulo França (“The Big Czech”) is a pilot from Paraná who has been in the Bom Futuro group for 18 years. A close friend of the Zanoni family, he has been helping the Zanoni develop new solutions for agricultural aviation.

The fields are so large that anyone can get lost in the vastness, and are protected by a fleet of 17 Air Tractors, which is led by Paulo França, also known as Tchecão (“The Big Czech”). Paulo has been working there for almost two decades. He is a close friend to Sergio Zanoni (CEO of the Zanoni) and many of his ideas and demands led to some paradigm changes in the Brazilian aerial application industry. He tells us a little about his history in ag aviation:

“I have been an agricultural pilot for 27 years. My history in aviation is the history of any boy who, since he was a child, has dreamed of being a pilot. And from the beginning, I have identified myself a lot with agricultural aviation because you can see how useful you are to the world.

I started flying for Bom Futuro through a third party that provided contract service to them, working that way for 7 to 8 years. At a certain point, as the group grew, they decided to buy their own aircraft and invited me to join as a pilot. I am now completing 18 seasons with them. In the last one, we protected more than 1 million hectares [2.47 million acres, considering the two crop seasons that the region has during the year]”.

The application is made with rates between 0.3 GPA (3 liters/ha) for Malathion on cotton and up to 1 to 1.2 GPA (10 to 12 liters/ha) for insecticide and fungicide in soybeans. The pilot says that in the past there were a lot of regulations on ag aviation operations in the state of Mato Grosso, as the central region of Brazil goes beyond the so-called “ideal application conditions”, due to temperature and humidity. However, the group looked for some way to improve efficiency, adding one or two products that would improve applications:

“That’s where Low Volume in Oil (BVO) came in, which is the addition of 0.1 GPA [1 liter/ha] of vegetable oil to the load. We started using BVO in 2002. There was better efficiency and we were able to increase the application window, without falling short in the quality of the application.

The use of BVO in Mato Grosso compromises 100% of our work due to the efficiency of the droplets not evaporating and the better adhesion of the droplet to the plant. During our season, it rains a lot and the water washes the plant, but the oil prevents that.

An AT-802 from the Bom Futuro group at work. The company runs an ag fleet of 17 Air Tractors and grows more than 1.5 million acres of grain every year.

Tchecão has been working with Zanoni on a new rotary atomizer specifically for the AT-602 and AT-802. He shared with us some details about the project:

“For many years, we’ve heard it was impossible to work with this kind of nozzle in those larger aircraft. Everybody used to say that high speed compromised the droplet spectrum. We tested different application solutions from different brands and here we are. I’ve been working with Sérgio for 18 years and we have managed to develop a lot of interesting stuff for the ag aviation industry. This time will be no different.

They [Zanoni] came here and we managed to find a common denominator, and now we are doing the agronomic research. I’ve been doing different simulations at different times for ten days in a row (at night, dawn, in the morning) with the best analysis tools available on the market. Although the tests are still preliminary, we are seeing the best possible result with this new development for all kinds of applications, including insecticides and fungicides.

It was a difficult job, and took us some time and research, but this is how the industry evolves. We must look at the future, propose and be open to innovations. We still have companies manufacturing products with technology from the 1970’s or 1980’s and aircraft are using it just because it comes from outside the country. But, I can say that this development we’ve done together here in Brazil has a global standard of excellence. It is important to have people who like our industry like us, who are engaged and who want to see things evolve. People who go out into the field and see what’s happening in the real world, people who accept suggestions and criticisms to change and improve”.

Edegar Marcondes de Campos

Edegar Marcondes de Campos is an agricultural pilot with a lot of experience around the country. Born in the state of Paraná, he has flown for 21 seasons in different regions of Brazil. Edegar began his career in the state of Goiás where he flew for two years and then moved to the state of Mato Grosso, where he worked for seven seasons. He says that at the time he only applied at higher application rates, from 3 GPA to 4 GPA (30 to 40 liters/ha) and, in the last two years he has started to apply at 1 GPA (10 liters/ha).

Embraer Ipanema 203 spraying with rotary atomizer. This type of aerial application has been the key to making smaller aircraft have a higher effectiveness in the field.
Edegar is a Brazilian pilot with experience in different regions of the country. He has seen some very big changes in aerial application parameters happen over the past few years.

“Without a doubt, working with rotary atomizers is excellent, as it is the best way to have more uniform droplets and better results on the crop due to better coverage.

For the environment, it is a very good tool due to the small amount of water used. It is obvious that there are issues related to drift, but this is a problem that affects our industry in any type of application, including those with 5 to 3 GPA (50 to 30 liters/ha) with aircraft and also those with 10 to 20 GPA (100 to 200 liters/ha) with ground sprayers. This can only be solved with professionalism. There are good adjuvants and carrier products available in the market, and new ones are being developed every day. Finding the right solution and investing in pre-season testing and calibration is key to success”.

Grupo DB and Rodrigo Mesquita Bueno

Rodrigo Mesquita Bueno also has experience in different types of applications in different regions of Brazil. He started his career in commercial aviation in 1999 and started flying agriculturally in 2007 in multiple types of aircraft including a Pawnee, Embraer Ipanema 201 and 202, Cessna Agwagon, Ag Truck and Ag Husky and now an Air Tractor from the Grupo DB. He worked one season in Bahia (with soybeans and cotton), three in Rio Grande do Sul (with rice), three in Goiás (with sugarcane, soybeans and corn) and is now finishing the seventh season in Minas Gerais.

Grupo DB is an agribusiness company with operations in Minas Gerais (southeast Brazil), in the regions of Alto Paranaíba and in the Northern part of the state. Founded in 1976, Décio Bruxel grows high quality coffee, cotton, soy, corn, beans, sorghum, wheat, rice and tomatoes. They also raise beef and swine cattle and work with animal and plant genetics. It is a prominent organization in Brazil in areas of development and precision, having partnerships with several research and quality certification institutions in the country.

Rodrigo currently treats 13 of their farms, three being in the north of the state that require more than an hour ferry from its central base, which is close to the city of Patos de Minas. Initially, this caused a problem with the durability of rotary atomizers, as they run much longer than usual operations due to the length of the aircraft ferry. Their spray season runs 11 months out of the year. In 2017, the durability of the atomizers was greatly improved and solved the short lifespan issue.

He highlighted that, because the region has an immense variety of crops (according to him, everything except rice and sugarcane are planted there), technologies that offer a wide range of different flows are required. For example, a specific insecticide for cotton is sprayed with application rates of 0.2 GPA (2 liter/ha) and in tomatoes the foliar application is at 3 GPA (30 liter/ha).

“The rotary atomizer has made our life a lot easier. We have already tested several application solutions, with Air Tractors and Embraer Ipanemas, and this was the one that best stood up to our pace”.

Rodrigo doing spray work on tomatoes. He was responsible for introducing new conditions for aerial applications in different crops in the region.

Rodrigo highlighted the role that the investment in research played in his operation. He points out that through many studies, spray clinics, dialogue with farmers and evaluation of results in the field, he has managed to find a standard of excellence for his aerial application work.

“A spray clinic was done with our equipment and it showed a very considerable uniformity of droplet size for applications. We did studies with an application rate rate of 0.2 GPA (2 liter/ha), which carries no water, only one liter of product and one liter of oil derived from cottonseed. An application aimed specifically at the cotton boll weevil, it had a very considerable effectiveness. We got swaths from 30 to 33 meters (98ft – 108ft) here. The use of a 0.2 GPA (2 liter/ha) was a case study. That’s the advantage of working directly with the farmers. We’ve been explaining, looking for improvements, doing tests and lowering the application rates. I arrived here in 2013, the company outsourced the service and they used to work with application rates of 2 to 3 GPA (20 to 30 liters/ha). I asked for some areas to be tested with lower flows.

One example was corn. Here we have a big pig farm, so they use a lot of corn to feed them. I came from Goiás, where I used to work with an application rate of 0.8 GPA (8 liter/ha) in corn. At first, they were hesitant of the proposal, but already in the first year everything was done using these parameters. It worked – application quality improved, application time improved and concentration changed.

Cotton was sprayed with rates between 0.8 to 0.6 GPA (8 and 6 liters/ha) and they had a lot of regulatory restriction moving to 0.2 GPA (2 liter/ha). Until at one point, due to the amount of cotton, they accepted the tests to spray 0.2 GPA (2 liter/ha) with pure product (Malathion UL, a specific insecticide whose label recommends this application rate). Initially with mineral oil, then with agricultural oil and now in the last two years we are using oil derived from the cottonseed, which is attractive to the insect”.

A view of the spray trail left by the aircraft using rotary atomizers. According to the operator, this application technology was the only one that met his demands.

Finally, Rodrigo told us some more specific details about working with different crops:

“The cotton application window is from 9am to 4pm due to the floral opening of the cotton bud, which is when the insect is most active on the crop. At this time of day the boll weevil (“bicudo do algodoeiro”, a very common beetle in Brazilian cotton crop) leaves the bottom of the plant and you can catch it. Its life cycle is very voracious. Every three days, new bolls are born. A boll weevil lays approximately 200 eggs a day. It is a condition that if you are not acutely aware, if you do not have the effectiveness, the speed of application, it is easy to lose control. So the 0.2 GPA (2 liter/ha) application rate made the effectiveness of the treatment just sensational.

Rodrigo Mesquita Bueno, a pilot with experience on different crops around Brazil, is now leading innovation in the state of Minas Gerais.

Later we came to use 0.2 GPA (2 liter/ha) in corn, too, to fight the leafhopper (“cigarrinha do milho”). It is a flying insect, which also lays eggs very quickly and you can easily lose control of the corn crop.

Finally, we went with those special applications on coffee. The coffee culture is accustomed to working with very high application rates, between 30 to 40 GPA (300 and 400 liters/ha). With the aircraft we are spraying 0.8 to 1 GPA (8 to 10 liters/ha), when the leaf is too heavy I make up to 2 GPA (20 liters/ha). All with atomizers. I did tests with other types of applications and nozzles, and in my opinion working with 1 GPA (10 liters/ha) on the rotary atomizer gave us the best results. I also spray with 0.2 GPA (2 liters/ha) on coffee to catch the moth of the Minas Gerais (“mariposa do bicho mineiro”), the main plague on coffee crops today. The results have been spectacular in controlling the moth flocks”.

Santa Fé Aviação Agrícola and Carlos Ferronato

Carlos Ferronato is a pilot in the new generation of Brazilian ag aviation. He started in the industry in 2010 as a loader (badeco, as we call it in Brazil), helping pilots on several aircraft (Pawnee, Embraer, Thrush and Air Tractors). In 2014, he graduated as an agricultural pilot in Ponta Grossa (Paraná state) and his first job was in the Lucas do Rio Verde region (state of Mato Grosso), where he flew for a local ag aviation operator for three years with an 1976 model Embraer Ipanema 201.

Carlos Ferronato with his wife and son in his new hangar. The pilot has stood out for his aerial application service in one of the most productive grain regions in the world.
A Ferronato’s Embraer Ipanema 203 fresh from the factory, with a complete Zanoni spray system ready to be installed.

Carlos then started working for his father-in-law, who is a farmer and started to make 100% of his applications with aircraft. Together with his wife’s family, Carlos started an agricultural aviation company with an Embraer Ipanema 201 and then acquired an Air Tractor AT-402. They started to provide services to other farmers in the region of Lucas Rio Verde, Nova Mutum and Sorriso, today considered one of the largest grain producing centers in the world.

The company sold the old Ipanema and bought two new Embraer 203s, spraying corn, cotton and soybeans, pastures and eucalyptus. In the last season, they treated 240,000 hectares in the region (almost 600,000 acres), mostly with BVO (low volume with oil) applications.

An Aircraft Clinic being conducted with Ferronato’s Air Tractor using rotary atomizers. The operators say calibration is essential to maximize results and enable better aircraft performance.

Carlos says that since he entered ag aviation as a pilot, he has always used rotary atomizers only needing hydraulic nozzles to spray herbicides with higher application rates. Carlos highlights that the main reasons are the quality of the application (both due to the uniformity of the swath width and the uniformity of the droplet spectrum), the aircraft’s efficiency and the versatility of the nozzle (which allows working with lower flows for insecticides and slightly higher flows for fungicides). He shared some of his perspectives about this type of operation:

“We always try to work with lower application rates, depending on the weather. From early morning until 9 am, you have better performance depending on the type of application. We are doing several tests with different application rates until we are able to find the best possible result. We work with 0.3 to 0.5 GPA (3 to 5 liters/ha) for insecticides and about 0.8 to 1 GPA (8 and 10 liters/ha) for the fungicide, and the results are getting better and better. Nowadays, with the technologies that we have been adding and using, from DGPS equipment, a good spray system, rotary atomizers and all the instrumentation for perfect calibration (for swath width and droplet size), we are optimizing the aircraft and our work. “

Alan Poulsen and Taim Aero Agrícola

Alan Poulsen, a very experienced Brazilian agricultural pilot who has brought innovations to the Brazilan agricultural aviation industry. If SINDAG (the Brazilian association of agricultural aviation companies) had a hall of fame like the US, he would certainly deserve to be there.

Alan started his career in 1973, flying charter for five years. In 1979, he started making aerial applications for a farm in Pelotas (state of Rio Grande do Sul, southern Brazil) and in 1981 he joined an agricultural aviation company, called Mirim Aviação Agrícola. With the exception of 1983, when Alan flew corporate in the state of Pará (northern Brazil, in the Amazon region), he stayed with the company until 1992. He then formed the company Taim Aero Agrícola, located in the same city of Pelotas. With extensive experience using the Embraer family of ag aircraft, he was one of the pilots who contributed to the advancement of the aircraft over the next decade, performing the first tests of the Ipanema 202 for Neiva (the old manufacturer of this aircraft, which was bought by Embraer). Poulsen also helped to develop a spreader for this kind of aircraft (the “gaucho swathmaster”), which is now widely used in Brazil.

The Taim team has been providing services in southern Brazil for three decades. Alan Poulsen is responsible for several important developments for aerial application with the Embraer Ipanema.

Taim currently treats pastures and rice, soy, wheat and cotton with liquid and dry applications. The company also provides some aerial firefighting services in an ecological reserve, which is a peculiar case because it successfully uses smaller aircraft than what is considered the norm. Poulsen also is currently one of SINDAG’s directors, responsible for operational safety in agricultural aviation.

One of Taim’s aircraft equipped with the new Zanoni-Spectrum Electrostatic System. Alan Poulsen is responsible for introducing the use of this technology in South America.

When we talk about application technology, Poulsen stands out for being the forerunner in the use of an electrostatic system in South America. He introduced the use of this technology in the region in 2001, in partnership with Spectrum Electrostatic System (from Houston, Texas).

For two decades, the company has been carrying out work with rotary atomizers, arguably making him one of the most experienced operators in the world. Alan highlights some features of this type of operation:

“I have been working with this for two decades, with very satisfactory results. The use of electrostatic technology allowed us some very significant gains. First, the possibility of working with thinner droplets increases application efficiency, giving us greater coverage. The electrostatic charge ensures greater uniformity in droplet size.

We have done extensive research over the years, managing to see a better deposition of droplets when compared to conventional applications. With lower application rates, typically working with 1 GPA (10 liters/ha), I have also achieved significant operational gain with my aircraft and a reduction in the use of water.

But we shouldn’t see this technology as a magic solution. That does not exist. It all depends on the precise maintenance of the system and, above all, on an application following the correct parameters and conditions. That is the way it is with any type of work. You can only achieve satisfactory results with professionalism and agricultural aviation is not a place for amateurs”.

Poulsen is responsible for developing a partnership between Spectrum from the USA and Zanoni from Brazil. The two companies are developing a new system for aerial applications using electrostatic technology that is more modern and more efficient than traditional application methods. Alan has been flying this new technology for a few years and a study recently conducted at Taim has just received the “scientific award” from SINDAG in 2021. Led by Professor Alfran Tellechea Martini, a group of agronomists analyzed the impact of the electrostatic system on fungicide drift.

“It’s great to see the result of serious and well-done research, like these two we did here at Taim. It is through our experience in the field and through those studies that we are able to see what works and what does not. Where there is room for improvement and how we can share good practices with others in agricultural aviation. That’s how the industry evolves”.

Data collection performed with the Zanoni atomizer with an Embraer aircraft. The project collaborated with several Brazilian operators helping to understand the droplet spectrum and swath width in this type of application.

Anderson Pardal and Grupo Piaia

Anderson started in aerial application in 2015, after a brief stint in air transport and corporate aviation. His first two seasons were with an Embraer Ipanema 202A (powered by alcohol) and, after his boss acquired an Air Tractor, he started operating the turbine aircraft, completing four seasons with it.

An Air Tractor from Grupo Piaia spraying crop fields in the state of Piaui, one of the last “agricultural frontiers” in Brazil.

Grupo Piaia is an agricultural company with farms in the region of São Gabriel do Oeste (state of Mato Grosso do Sul) and Campo Novo dos Parecis (state of Mato Grosso), both of them in the Brazilian Midwest, and also in the region of Baixa Grande do Ribeiro (state of Piaui), one of the new “agricultural frontiers” in Brazil.

A close-up view of the application with rotary atomizers. Anderson highlights that he has always worked with this technology and that it is currently the most used in his region.

The main crops that Anderson serves in Piaui are soybeans, corn and rice, spraying foliar fertilizer, insecticide and fungicide. He says that he always used rotary atomizers and says he has nothing to complain about it:

“We have been working in this way for six years and this was a record year. I flew 125,000 hectares (300,000 acres) and we had a 50% gain in productivity compared to previous years. By maintaining this type of service, we managed to control both pests and diseases. We had no outbreak issues of any kind.”.

Anderson tells us that it is common to work in the region with application rates of 0.8 to 1.2 GPA (8 to 12 liters/ha) and that atomizers are the best solution to meet this demand. In his operation, Anderson works with application rates of 1.5 GPA (15 liters/ha) for foliar fertilization, 1 GPA (10 liters/ha) for insecticide. With fungicide, it is common to spray 1 GPA (10 liters/ha) at the beginning of the cycle, and, after 70 to 80 days, they move to 1.5 GPA (15 liters/ha).

Trail view of a typical rotary atomizer application in Brazil.

Last year, Anderson also started to work as a ferry pilot and is now bringing new Air Tractors from the United States to South America for AgSur Aviones. During our talks, he also highlighted the importance of information sharing and promotion in our industry:

“I like to publicize our work, the work of agricultural aviation. We suffer from prejudice from all sides, with regard to safety. But when we work with professionalism, we have a margin. We need to show that the work is serious, that it is always in constant evolution. Agricultural aviation is growing a lot here in Brazil and we are presenting the day-to-day of aerial application. You have to stay tuned to innovations, keep up with new ideas, so people can see how serious we are”.

Anderson during a ferry flight operation, bringing an Air Tractor from the US to South America.

Sabri and Henrique Campos

Henrique Campos is a Brazilian agronomist with a Master and PhD in Pesticide Application Technology from the São Paulo State University (UNESP), one of the most prestigious Brazilian institutions in agronomic research. His main areas of research are adjuvants, spray nozzles and techniques for drift mitigation, having also studied at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and being an international analyst to the NAAREF Operation S.A.F.E. Campos is associated with Sabri, a Brazilian consulting company that brings together several PhDs from the most varied fields related to agriculture. Among the company’s list of associates are some of the biggest global manufacturers of ground sprayers, drones, ceramic nozzles, adjuvants and agrochemicals, inductors, mixing tanks and digital technologies.

Dr. Henrique Campos analyzing the condition of some atomizer nozzles during an Aircraft Clinic. His consultancy service has helped many Brazilian operators to find the best parameters to increase the efficiency of the aerial application.

With nine years of experience in field and research trials, he is one of the “new generation” agronomists who has been shaping new Brazilian aerial application paradigms. With his DoPro Agricultural Aircraft Clinic, he has been helping many Brazilian operators in determining the ideal swath width for the aircraft, checking product distribution losses, dimensioning the drift potential and in characterizing the size of the droplets. The work is done on a customer basis with a series of special technologies developed by American researchers, universities and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA)

Already working together for a few years, now in 2021 Zanoni Equipamentos and Sabri established a partnership for research with atomizers. The two will soon make available a platform with the results of different application conditions with the Brazilian atomizer, results of a large number of field tests carried out by Henrique Campos. The Dr. shared with us some of his perspectives on the future of Brazilian aerial application:

A typical data collection for droplet spectrum and swath width analysis. Aircraft calibration and evaluation of results before season are key to optimizing the spray job.
Mr. Campos presenting some results to his partners. The expert says that there is no trade-off between efficiency and safety in aerial application and that the operator must always look to “all sides”.

“In my opinion, the best thing about working with rotary atomizers is the versatility and precision it offers in terms of application rate and droplet spectrum. We see operators in Brazil working with these nozzles from ultra-low volume to applications with 2 to 3 GPA (20 and 30 liters/ha). You can produce from very fine to coarse droplets with great uniformity depending on your need, thus achieving a great balance between operational efficiency and safety.

We know that there is great reluctance to work with lower volumes due to drift issues and it does make sense. But I like to say that any professional work must always follow the middle path, without radicalizing to any side or the other, always looking pragmatically at the results. Spray drift is also related to the presence of sensitive crops, therefore understanding the environment is essential for drift mitigation. And we are seeing great outcomes in Brazil, both in terms of application quality and in terms of health and environmental safety”.

Alan McCracken

Alan McCracken is an Irish agronomist who has lived in the US for decades. After working for several multinational companies, McCracken started acting as an independent agronomic consultant.

He is largely responsible for some of the major changes in aerial application standards around the world, including the Brazilian ag aviation industry, having already worked in dozens of countries. He says he spends more than half of each year traveling the world to help our industry take the flight in the right direction.

Some success and peculiar stories he likes to tell are the control of the olive Moth in Spain, the works for mosquito control in old Yugoslavia, the fight against locusts in Bolivia, the protection of banana crops in Ecuador, and the adjustment of insecticide and fertilizer applications in Mexico’s asparagus plantations.

In North America, McCracken has helped operators to modify their application parameters in different types of spraying. Some of the works in Canada that he highlights are the calibration of aircraft to control spruce budworm (a type of application that has been done for many decades with low volume operations) and the spraying of fungicides and desiccants in canola crops. In the US, his work focuses on applications of fungicides and insecticides across the country in the most diverse types of crops imaginable.

Alan McCracken during one of his trips to Brazil, with two ag pilots (Erasmo Griebeler, to the left, and Rodrigo Kuhn, to the right). The Irish agronomist is a highly expert in agricultural aviation and has contributed to some considerable changes in aerial application standards around the world.
A field research conducted by Alan McCracken in the state of Piauí, with an Air Tractor 402 using a rotary atomizer.

Further south, McCracken is one of the “old school” agronomists (despite being one of those responsible for generating many innovations in the region), which greatly influenced the work being done today in Brazil and Argentina. He has followed the development of the local industry closely, attending most of the conventions and providing services to some of the largest South American operators and local manufacturers. In this region, his work was mainly concentrated on the gigantic grain industry (such as soy, corn and rice) and on citrus crops. He was the pioneer in introducing low volume fungicides for the control of soybean rust:

“When all the experts said to use more water, we got the best possible control, and that was with lower rates. For this reason many people refer to me as the ‘5 liter man’. For me, that’s a compliment”.

Alan McCracken and Grupo Piaia’s team. The agronomist was responsible for helping to find a solution to the soybean rust in South America.

Flying to the future

Brazilian agriculture has begun to play an increasing role in the production of food for the world. During the past 40 years, the Brazilian crop production grew by 385% while only increasing area farmed by 32%, producing more with less and maintaining 2/3 of its territory as native vegetation. According to Embrapa (the main Brazilian agronomic research institution), in just ten years Brazil’s participation in the world food market jumped from US$ 20.6 billion to US$ 100 billion. In the last two decades, the Brazilian grain production grew 210%, compared to the world production increasing only 60%. It is estimated that the Brazilian grain production could surpass 500 million tons by 2050. Brazil has gone from a food importer to one of the largest producers of oranges, coffee and soybeans as well as chicken, beef and sugar, becoming the third largest agricultural exporter in the world.

The “Mastery of Tropical Agriculture” or the “Conquest of the Brazilian Midwest”, this recent boom in the Brazilian countryside, reminds us of the Westward movement in the USA; many hard working men opening frontiers and establishing farms to produce food. But a century later, Brazil has had the benefit of US technologies. All over the countryside, you will see a lot of John Deere tractors, Ford and GM trucks and Air Tractor and Thrush aircraft caring for the crops. Many Brazilian agronomists have been able to learn from American experts through student exchanges and partnerships between research institutions.

Today, Brazilian agriculture benefits from this integration between the two countries and the American agricultural industry has also gained from the bilateral exchange of technologies and knowledge. It is now common to see Brazilian developments contribute to US agriculture and agribusiness and vice versa. Instead of competitors, the two countries are part of the same Americas, the only continent capable of guaranteeing food security in a world with increasing demand.

The Agricultural Aviation industry is also part of this modern advancement; from aircraft manufacturers, to developers of application technologies, agrochemical suppliers, expert agronomists and even pilots – working both in the southern and northern seasons, the US and Brazil have the two largest agricultural aircraft fleets on the planet. The experiences and successes of atomizer applications on row crops is just one way that sharing technological advancements can assist us all.




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