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Aerial Applicators on Call and Ready for Duty
Kentucky Ag Connection - 05/25/2022

After a productive 2021 spraying season, the National Agricultural Aviation Association (NAAA) expects demand for aerial application services to be even greater this summer as farmers strive to protect their crops from yield-robbing weeds, disease and insect pests in an effort to bolster the global food supply.

NAAA conducted an industry survey toward the end of the 2021 spraying season. It found that 4 out of 5 aerial applicators flew the same or more hours and treated the same or more acres than they did in 2020, including 57% that treated more acres and 54% that flew more hours than the year before. Several signs point to aerial applicators being even busier this summer. Leading pesticide manufacturers recently informed NAAA that they believe fungicide applications could be 20% higher than in 2021 when 55 million acres of plant health products were sprayed. Furthermore, even with tight supplies and higher input costs, farmers will be counting on aerial applicators to help them maximize their crop output while commodity prices remain high.

Agricultural aviators treat 127 million acres of cropland in the United States each year. That doesn't include the 7.9 million acres of pasture and rangeland treated by agricultural aircraft annually. Aerial pest control for managers of forests, waterways and public health also adds to these many millions of acres--5.1 million acres of forestland and 5.2 million acres of mosquito and public health applications are treated annually.

When disease, weeds or insects threaten a crop or it needs nutrients or seeding, aerial application is the fastest and most economical way to aid farmers. It permits large areas to be treated rapidly, far faster than any other form of application. When wet soil conditions, rolling hills or dense vegetation prevent terrestrial equipment from treating an area, aerial application is often the only or most economical method for timely pesticide applications. Additionally, aerial application is conducive to higher crop yields since it does not disrupt the crop or cause soil compaction, improving soil health and the amount grown per acre.

Data from a Texas A&M University economics study calculated that the aerial application industry's value to farmers, input suppliers, processors and agricultural transportation and storage industries for corn, wheat, cotton, soybeans and rice production alone in the U.S. is about $37 billion annually. That figure is expected to grow substantially and in importance as food prices increase and food production becomes an issue of growing importance due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, supply and demand issues, and a growing global population.

"With everything going on in the world, including food supply issues, aerial application is going to be vital this year," NAAA CEO Andrew Moore said. "Because aerial applicators will be in such high demand, NAAA strongly advises farmers to schedule work with them in advance whenever possible."

America's aerial applicators are ready to assist farmers with timely applications. NAAA's "Find an Aerial Applicator" database helps farmers find them. The search tool is especially handy for farmers that don't already have an existing service relationship with an aerial application operation. At AgAviation.org/findapplicator, users can conduct a radius search by city/state or zip code for distances ranging from zero to 25 miles away up to 250 miles away. All aerial application companies in the database are members of the NAAA and must abide by its Code of Conduct to operate in a manner that reflects the professionalism and ethical nature of the aerial application industry.

Farmers, ranchers, foresters, agricultural co-ops and crop advisors are encouraged to visit http://agaviation.org/findapplicator to find an aerial applicator near them.

NAAA represents the interests of the 1,560 aerial application industry owner/operators and 2,028 non-operator agricultural pilots throughout the United States licensed as commercial applicators that use aircraft to enhance the production of food, fiber and bioenergy; protect forestry; protect waterways, pastureland and ranchland from invasive species; and control health-threatening pests, including mosquitos and other insect pests that spread West Nile virus, Zika virus and other deadly diseases. Approximately 28% of crop protection product applications to commercial farmland are made aerially.


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