The aerial application can sometimes receive a lot of hate in the media from environmental activists who don’t understand the precision and skill required to spray crops from the air. Ag pilots take their jobs very seriously and take special precautions to ensure the safety of surrounding communities and the environment. In case someone you know is still skeptical, here are seven debunked common myths to “clear the air” about “crop dusting.”
Ag pilots don’t have any “real” training.
Contrary to popular belief that all ag pilots are daredevils flying by the seat of their pants, they, undergo a great deal of training before ever stepping into the cockpit. At a minimum, becoming a crop duster requires a commercial pilot’s license, often with specialized training in aerial application. Earning your wings also involves hours of classroom work and computerized simulations on the ground before taking flight. Once in the air, aspiring crop dusters typically first fly with a professional co-pilot until they are ready to take off solo.
Pesticides are made of unnatural materials.
Did you know that 99.9% of pesticides used on American crops are chemicals plants produce naturally to defend themselves in nature? Why reinvent the wheel by creating new compounds in a lab when nature has already thought of everything? When stressed or damaged, plants release natural toxins to protect themselves against predators. Because of this, Americans are estimated to eat about 1.5 grams of natural pesticides per person per day. That’s about 10,000 times more than the average person consumes in synthetic pesticide residues daily!
Pilots are careless with where they spray.
Thanks to their specialized training, ag pilots know exactly how high and fast to fly to hit their target. Most crop dusters only fly 10 to 15 feet above the tops of the crop canopy! Pilots are sure not to release their agricultural chemicals too early and want to get as close as possible to the field to minimize drift. Drift occurs when the wind and land catch the pesticides on an unintentional target. To prevent this, a strict list of conditions must be met prior to spraying, including suitable weather conditions and low wind speeds. The type of chemical and stage of the crop also narrow the window of opportunity to apply agrochemicals, making ag pilots masters of timing and efficiency.
Food sprayed with pesticides are unsafe to eat.
A common lie that organic industry-sponsored lobbying groups tell consumers is that crops sprayed with agrochemicals are unsafe for human consumption. The fact is, organic farms use agrochemicals, too, many of which cross over between both sides of the industry. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ensures that all our produce meets thorough and rigorous safety standards before reaching the grocery store. These agencies ensure that residue levels remain below established limits to safeguard human health. Studies have shown that the minuscule amounts of residue that make it to your plate are so little that they are virtually insignificant to human health. The likelihood of ingesting any residues is further reduced by adequately washing your produce before eating!
Aerial application of pesticides harm the environment, especially bees.
In response to the public’s concern for bee populations, the EPA implemented several policies that protect pollinators from pesticide exposure. Ag pilots protect the environment by spraying only when necessary and during ideal weather conditions. Research shows that aerial application also combats climate change by maximizing crop yield on existing farmland, increasing pesticide efficiency, and using precision ag technology to ensure an accurate targeted application every time.
Spraying from the air is more unsafe than from the ground.
Pilot safety is of utmost importance to the farming community, so proper licensing and ideal weather are necessary before starting the engines. Comparatively, time spent in the cockpit is greatly reduced relative to alternative spraying methods, reducing risk potential. Thanks to modern safety procedures, the benefits of crop dusting far outweigh the hazards of the sky. Manned aircraft can access wet fields and spray when the terrain is too difficult, or crop canopies are too thick for ground rigs. Crop dusters can also spray more pesticide faster and cheaper than any other alternative with less overall manual labor required.
Some alternatives work better than chemical pesticides.
Farmers will not use pesticides unless they have to. Agrochemicals can be very expensive and are often used as a last resort. Rather than rely on them, many farmers implement an “integrated pest management (IPM)” strategy that incorporates a variety of tactics to fight insects! One great IPM tool is releasing beneficial insects into your field to kill or eat pests, such as ladybugs or parasitic wasps! Other IPM strategies may include growing crops that release natural bug-fighting chemicals, tilling the soil to disrupt the pest lifecycle, or routinely cleaning farm equipment. And while all of these are good approaches to pest management, none are nearly as effective as pesticides, and all are needed in a balanced IPM plan.
It is “plane” to see that crop dusters are not just “winging it” but are, in fact, experts in their “field!” Pesticides are a vital component in ensuring the success of both conventional and organic farms. (In a very minimal dose!) So, the next time you see a crop duster whiz by, remember their crucial role in bringing food from the farm to your fork!