High Fives

The only monotonous thing about the aviation industry is the constant change.


This quote from aviation pioneer and Delta Air Lines founder Collett Everman “C.E.” Woolman reflected his working philosophy of creativity in concert with precise design guidelines. He collaborated with B.R. Coad, a government entomologist, in developing the concept for an aircraft specifically designed to suit the needs of a rapidly expanding ag aviation industry. First produced in 1925, the Huff-Daland Duster, nicknamed the “Puffer,” featured several innovative design features, including a cantilever wing design and a hopper built into the fuselage behind the pilot.


In many ways, the Puffer was the forerunner of many “cropdusters” to follow and is worthy of a ‘high five’ tribute. From that small beginning, agricultural aviation has become a significant contributor to producing the world’s food supply, with innovation being part and parcel of the new industry.


As 2024 rolls in and winter puts a temporary hold on agriculture, it’s time to take a well-deserved break in the action and highlight the hard work that went into ag aviation operations throughout the past year as a reminder of the vital importance ag aviation is to ensuring quality harvests with bountiful yields. According to a 2021 brief published by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, without the use of pesticides from both aircraft and ground rigs, there would be a 78% loss of fruit production, a 54% loss of vegetable production, and a 32% loss of cereal production.


Those who till the land know firsthand the staggering damage that can happen when weeds and other pests are allowed to flourish, so a first high five to the farmers who take it upon themselves to produce the best crops possible, often in the face of erratic weather patterns, rising input costs, stresses from disease, and competition from abroad.


Farming is not only a profession but also a way of life. As the American humorist Will Rogers once quipped: “A farmer has to be an optimist, or he wouldn’t still be a farmer.” I can still vividly recall my father’s worry when torrential rains washed away half our vegetable crops, and just as vividly, I remember the pride he took in producing bumper crops in better times.


Kudos to the countless agronomists, chemists, and other scientists who study crops from coast to coast, north and south, from the lush orchards of California to the vast grain fields in the Midwest. Because of their studies and research, in the past half-century, we’ve seen pesticides become friendlier and less persistent in the environment while becoming much more effective and target-oriented.


A salute to the NAAA as the voice of the aerial application industry in promoting safety and professionalism and working in concert with industry regulators to develop practical and productive regulations. And ditto to the many state associations that carry on similar work at the state level.


A particular nod to the Professional Aerial Applicators Support System (PAASS), developed by the NAAA to educate pilots about safety, security, and drift mitigation. In addition, the NAAA works with the federal government to invest in the research and development of technologies that enhance the efficacy of aerial application operations.


A sincere thanks to the ground support crews that mix, load, refuel and clean the aircraft, often overlooked as the aircraft and pilot tend to take center stage. Successful aerial application takes a true team effort, where knowledge and dedication at each stage of the operation are paramount.


High fives to the many ag aviation company owners and operators at home and worldwide for providing timely, effective, and economical crop protection services. With the proven ability to treat large or remote areas rapidly, contributing to higher crop qualities and yields, aircraft are precious when excessive precipitation precludes the use of ground rigs.


High fives to the regulatory agencies responsible for assessing environmental and human risks related to the safety of pesticides, including both active ingredients and product formulations. Together, they form a stringent regulatory system that ensures our food’s safety and environmental safety.


Among these are the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), where nearly 900 scientists and program officials ensure that products are appropriately registered to comply with federal law, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and state pesticide enforcement agencies. As standards and regulations continue to evolve with ongoing research, the result is that producers have access to crop protection products that are safer and more effective than ever before.


Last but not least on our list of those deserving of high fives are the skilled pilots who work long hours to ensure safe, economical, and effective crop protection on cereals, cotton, orchards, legumes, corn, and other crops. From my first contact with the ag aviation industry decades ago, I have always been impressed by the knowledge and skills ag pilots regularly demonstrate while balancing day-to-day operational demands with a solid grounding in safe operations.


Feeding a Hungry World


The ag aviation industry is essential in a lengthy production process from seeding to delivery to global markets. Amid a busy season where the action gets intense and there doesn’t seem to be enough time in a day to respond to urgent requests for aerial application, it’s good to remember that the result is feeding a hungry world. That focus has been there since the first known aerial application from fixed-wing aircraft occurred on August 3, 1921, by John Macready flying a Curtiss JN4 spreading lead arsenate to treat an infestation of caterpillars at a farm near Troy, Ohio.


That event was undoubtedly deserving of a high-five acknowledgment. With innovations sure to come in nozzle design, aircraft, GPS, biotechnology, drones, and advances in pesticide control and performance, we will undoubtedly have many opportunities to witness and salute many more high-five events in the future.





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