The top 10 myths about ag aviation are debunked and shareable with your friends!
Less than 2% of the U.S. population is directly involved in agriculture. Thus, it’s easy to believe myths and misconceptions in an area we are not familiar with. How many people have had the opportunity to talk with agricultural pilots?
Even farmers can sometimes be unfamiliar with particular topics. Many farmers who specialize in their specific area: cattle, sheep, row crops, etc., may be less familiar with farming practices outside of their area of expertise.
It’s important to talk to real agricultural pilots, farmers, and agricultural professionals about their work to get the facts. They are the experts in their fields. You would ask your mechanic about your car or your doctor about your health. Myths and misconceptions flourish with media sensationalism, misleading marketing, and activists looking to get ahead using scare tactics. This can make it challenging to distinguish myths from facts and contribute to food insecurity.
So if you have an opportunity to share some facts with your friends, here are the top ten myths debunked.
- “Crop dusting” is an accurate description. Today many pilots prefer “aerial application” or “ag pilot.” Crop dusting brings to mind an old-fashioned image of a grizzled man flying an old biplane low over a field in Illinois. Aerial application has dramatically evolved, so the language used to describe it has become. These well-trained, experienced pilots are called “ag pilots” or “aerial applicators.”
- It’s old-fashioned and low-tech. Today, aerial application is performed using high-tech turbines complete with GPS systems for planning and coordinating applications. GPS swath guidance, aerial imaging, and precise mapping and dispersal systems have been revolutionary. Pilots are trained in everything from aerial application to pesticide application to entomology. This training helps to protect the environment and your food.
- Applying products to crops is unnecessary. Like humans, plants need proper nutrition and protection from diseases and pests to reach maximum growth potential. Without the ability to protect crops, up to 80% of the world’s food production could be lost. Crop protection products are an essential tool that has allowed modern agriculture to increase crop yields while dramatically using less land. This is essential to food security and sustainability. With an ever-growing world population projected to reach 9 billion by 2050, the world will need to double food production even with a limited amount of land suitable for farming. Increasing the efficiency of the land already in production is critical.
- Aerial application isn’t necessary for agriculture. On the contrary, agricultural aviation plays a vital role in helping farmers produce a safe, affordable, and abundant food, fiber, and bioenergy supply. Agricultural products can be applied from the ground; however, in many cases, it is faster, safer, more efficient, and effective to do this from the air. Aircraft are not limited by wet fields and can apply products even when crop canopies are too thick for ground rigs. When crops are threatened by pests or disease, time is of the essence. According to the National Agricultural Aviation Association, an airplane or helicopter can do more in an hour than a ground rig can accomplish in a day. This reduces fuel use, air pollution, soil compaction, and topsoil runoff. Aircraft are instrumental in low-till and no-till systems.
- Crop Protection Products (Chemicals) are unsafe. There is a rigorous 8 to 10-year process for crop protection products to be approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Only 1 in 20,000 chemicals make it through the process. Even once it’s on the market, it is continuously monitored by the EPA, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and state agencies for food, worker, and environmental safety. The dose makes the poison. If you swallow a bottle of aspirin, you could die, but taking two tablets is beneficial—the same thing with crop protection products such as pesticides. For example, glyphosate, one of the safest farm chemicals out there, is applied at ounces (yes ounces) per acre! Most of what is being sprayed is water. This dose is effective and well within the strict regulatory guidelines. Farmers use crop protection products judiciously because It’s the right thing to do, and they’re too expensive to use at will. Specifically, the aerial application industry continuously innovates and improves equipment and techniques to minimize safety risks and educate pilots.
- Organic farmers don’t use aerial applications or pesticides. This is a straight-up myth. Organic farmers still use pesticides. Pests, weeds, and diseases still need to be controlled like any other farming system. Organic pesticides are one tool for this. Organic pesticides are non-synthetic but are no safer than non-organic products. The organic label is not a reflection of food safety, nutrition, or quality. All foods must meet high food safety standards, whether organic or not. There’s nothing wrong with choosing organic or non-organic. Both are safe and produced by farmers deserving of our respect.
- Aircraft are just used for pesticides for crops. Aerial application is not limited to pesticides. Aerial application also includes seeding and fertilizing. Many aerial applicators protect forestry by helping to fight forest fires with water. Did you know they can also be used to reduce the spread of disease? They play an essential role in combating mosquitoes carrying West Nile virus, encephalitis, and other diseases. Oil clean-up? Aerial application plays a vital role in protecting our oceans when there is a catastrophic oil spill. Fuel tankers? Aerial Application aircraft ferry fuel to remote villages worldwide to help with infrastructure. Pond stocking? Yes! They do that too. A popular method to maintain pond and stream health is using aircraft to drop fish.
- Aerial application is unregulated. Professionals who use crop protection products, including ag pilots, are closely regulated by state and federal organizations to ensure and continuously monitor the health and safety of the public, workers, and the environment. These organizations include the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Department of Transportation (DOT), and state departments of agriculture, ecology, and environment. Strict documentation of each field sprayed and regular inspection are required. Each aerial application pilot is licensed in the state they are performing work.
- Aerial application is a security risk. The National Agricultural Aviation Association takes security measures very seriously, even before the events of 9/11. Since then, they have implemented even greater security measures including thorough background checks, site security operation plans, and hidden security switches, which prevent unauthorized personnel from starting the aircraft. Aerial applicators continue to work with local, state, and federal officials to make sure public safety concerns are addressed so that the public can benefit from agricultural aviation.
- It’s an easy job. Being an ag pilot can be a gratifying profession. It also requires great skill and precision. The flying itself can be technically challenging, and thus pilots require lots of aviation training. Ag pilots are also in growing demand, and they provide essential services to farmers, foresters, and the public. But flying is the easy part and must be second nature. The pilot must be a professional applicator first.
If you think about it, it just makes sense that these are just myths. Ag pilots are highly-trained professionals who have vested interests in the environment’s health, human health, and food security. More than 90% of them own their own business, many of which are family businesses—the farmers who utilize aerial application care too. The health of the land, water, and the air is essential to their livelihoods and lives. Food safety matters too because they feed their families from the same food supply. About 98% of American farms are family farms. Aerial application is essential to ensure we have a safe, abundant, and affordable food supply. Next time you have a question about Aerial Application, ask the pilots, agriculturalists, and farmers who are outstanding in their fields or flying above them.