Aerial application is an essential part of the agriculture industry in Arkansas and the United States.
Helping Feed the World
Along with other advances in technology and farming techniques, aerial application has aided farmers in drastically increasing yields of commodity crops like soybeans, rice, corn and wheat in the last century.
“Every year, there are fewer acres in the United States to be farmed, and the world population continues to grow at a rapid pace,” says Tommy Anderson, incoming president of the Arkansas Agricultural Aviation Association and owner of Tommy’s Flying Service Inc. “Without crop protection products, yields of commodity crops would dramatically decrease, and I think it would be impossible to feed the world’s population without our contribution to production agriculture.”
Keeping You Safe
Since its start in the early 1900s, aerial applicators have utilized the latest advances in technology and stringent safety regulations to keep the public safe.
“There have been a lot of changes made,” says Mike Thompson of the Arkansas State Plant Board, the agency that regulates the use of pesticides in Arkansas. “They now use GPS devices to make sure they don’t apply more product than they need to and to make sure the application is very accurate. Years ago, we used to have flaggers – a person that would stand in the field to show the applicator where to spray next – and GPS eliminated that.”
Anderson says his industry is diligent about minimizing off-target drift, meaning pilots are able to precisely apply chemicals to only the fields that need them, and the chemicals do not drift to surrounding areas.
“With the GPS technology we have now, as well as improved spray nozzle design and all the tools we have available, aerial application continues to be more safe as time goes on,” Anderson says. “We’re constantly looking for new ways to protect the environment and the people who live in our communities.”
Thompson says continued research and improvements in the crop protection industry have decreased the amount of pesticides and fertilizers that are applied to crops.
“Years ago, you bought chemicals by the ton; nowadays you’re just putting out a few ounces at a time,” Thompson says. “It’s changed that much.”
In addition to its commitment to keeping the public safe, the Arkansas Agricultural Aviation Association also makes its pilots’ safety a priority. With 414 licensed commercial agriculture pilots, Arkansas has the most pilots of any state.
“Our association has a program that teaches our pilots how to recognize fatigue and practice risk management,” Anderson says. “Because of programs like these, the number of accidents and fatalities, while not at zero, has continued to be reduced with better training and equipment. We have so many more resources than when I started doing this 30 years ago.”
Anderson says he is proud and excited to be part of an innovative industry that is integral in helping feed the world.
“Having spent my whole life in farming, this career path has allowed me to stay connected to agriculture,” he says. “I get to enjoy what I do every day and contribute to the task of providing a safe and abundant food supply.”