CROP SPRAYING: NOT A DYING ART

by Chris van den Berg

Cessna Ag-Wagon (ZS-JDH), spraying maize in the Northern Cape, Prieska district. February 2012

Cessna Ag-Wagon (ZS-JDH), spraying maize in the Northern Cape, Prieska district. February 2012

Cessna Ag-Wagon (ZS-JDH), spraying maize in the Northern Cape, Prieska district. February 2012 Ripening sugarcane in the Umfolozi flats, 2008 season. Note that the aircraft is gradually climbing for a power line in the background. You can't always see them clearly, exactly the reason why they are so dangerous. Fairly straight forward cockpit, with the GPS on top of the instrument panel. An Air Tractor 401B, seen from the back, spraying wheat in the Northern Cape, Douglas district.

I've been part of this industry since I was 3 years old. My dad bought his first crop spraying aircraft in 1989, a Piper Pawnee (ZS-EVG), and I was inspired by his love for flying to follow in his footsteps.

When people think of an "ag-pilot" they envision some old guy flying a biplane with his leather cap, buzzing the landscape without a care in the world. If you're one of those people, you're certainly in for a big surprise. There is more to aerial application aviation than you have ever imagined. Today there are organizations working to change the stereotype of the ag-pilot. The National Agricultural Aviation Association (NAAA) is one such organization, due to the way they promote research, new technology and new spraying techniques.

Crop spraying has become a sophisticated and professional industry different from the ways of the past, when "flagmen" on the ground were used to indicate the line in the field to be sprayed by the pilot. Two people would stand at each end of the field and once the pilot lined the aircraft up with them and the aircraft passed over the flagmen, they will move twenty paces up. Today's crop spraying aircraft are fitted with GPS units, flagmen are no longer required. The GPS units help the pilot to do a more accurate job, thereby adding to the professionalism of the crop spraying industry.

In South Africa, approximately 65 pilots hold an ag-rating, though not all of them are actively spraying. Southern Africa has a good balance between young and old aerial applicators, stretching from ages between from early 20's to 70 years of age. However, in America, the average age of an aerial applicator is 60 years old. This demonstrates that there are ample opportunities opening up all over the world for ag-pilots. A fairly good living can be made from being an aerial applicator, although it is like a roller-coaster ride. Nothing is for certain in this business, due to fluctuating crop prices and unpredictability of weather patterns.

Crops are seasonal; there are certain times of the year that you won't have any spraying work to do. Some pilots spend the summer months spraying crops in the Highveld and in the winter months they'll move down to the Western Cape for spraying work. This means that they are spending months away from home on a yearly basis.

One of the drawbacks of this line of work is likely its risk factor. Ray Dyson, an American aerial applicator once said: "Mothers should always caution their sons about making a career choice that requires a crash helmet." Statistics show that crop spraying is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. The pilot's role is a professional one with tremendous pressures, requiring courage, caution, and common sense, with a mindset on safety. The pilot must be under control at all times and be able to recognize fatigue. Sometimes pilots work for weeks with very little or no days off.

Hazards that aerial applicators have to look out for are wires, structures such as houses, trees, cell phone towers, weather conditions especially mist and also the terrain due to the extremely low level at which agricultural pilots have to operate.

Headlines like: "Crop spraying pilots are a dying breed" or "Crop spraying is a dying art" are very disturbing. The most frequently asked question to aerial applicators is whether there is still a future in the industry. To produce future foods, fiber and bio-fuels, increased production on land already in use will be critical. The use of fungicides, insecticides and herbicides has helped to increase such crop yields. Big ground spraying rigs and genetically generated crops have cut into business, but there will always be a place for a crop spraying aircraft.

Not only the pilots' skills, but also their relationship with the chemical representatives and farmers will determine the success of an aerial applicator. Due to finances and economics, farmers are working under a lot of pressure themselves. A pilot who offers their services to a farmer can literally "save" a crop attacked by insects, fungus or weeds. If you fail, he fails. If you win he wins.

Getting up early before sunrise, flying for hours without stepping out of the aircraft, combined with the stress and pressures involved, makes crop spraying challenging, but it all adds to the excitement of being an aerial applicator.

Any type of flying has it challenges and dangers. Always remember that taking off is optional, but landing is mandatory.

Safe flying.

Comments for CROP SPRAYING: NOT A DYING ART

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Mar 05, 2017
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Boland Lugspuit Diens NEW
by: Anonymous

Hi to You,
Stumbled on your article and some good memory comments.
I personally knew Johnny Verkuil, Andy Visser and my father was Francois du Toit.
We spent many joyful days and experiences in the hangars in Malmesbury.
They were great guys, tough and pilots of the highest order.
Who of their children are still alive now who share my sentiments?
Would like to hear.
Greetings,
Fred Knott

Dec 29, 2016
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Ag Pilot Training NEW
by: Fantini Air

Very nice to see so many people interested in our game. If you are interested in Ag spraying, contact Fantini Air in Kroonstad. We are the only accredited Ag pilot training school in Africa.

Nov 14, 2016
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Nigeria crop spray opportunity NEW
by: Anonymous

Great inputs guys. Reading from you all is quite informative. Operating in Nigeria where this industry is certainly growing. Anyone keen in knowing more, please feel free to ask.I certainly need crop spray pilots out here should any one be interested. Cheers, Uche. mdagaviation@gmail.com

Sep 30, 2016
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Jul 25, 2016
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May 21, 2016
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Up with Air Tractors NEW
by: Garth Richert

Keep up the good work. Air Tractors are superb and what an amazing career for those game enough to take it up. Like your comments about crop spraying.
Thanks again.

Oct 26, 2015
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I think crop spraying is not a dying art. Getting it right before the flight. I have also bookmarked the page.

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Oct 22, 2015
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Oct 22, 2015
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Crop Spraying is not diminishing but its importance is increasing day by day. I have also bookmarked this link as it is very useful.

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Oct 07, 2015
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Sep 17, 2015
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You have done a very well job. NEW
by: Anonymous

The CROP SPRAYING: NOT A DYING ART is so interesting post for us. You have done a very well job. I like flying an airplane and I must want to train for it. Thanks for this nice post. custom decals online for uk

Sep 13, 2015
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by: Bahs

Crops are seasonal; there are certain times of the year that you won't have any spraying work to do.

Sep 13, 2015
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by: Ceata

Not only the pilots' skills, but also their relationship with the chemical representatives and farmers will determine the success of an aerial applicator.

Aug 07, 2015
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Jobs NEW
by: Jayson Spencer

I'm an Australian , working here in Africa for the past 18 months , and I love the place , I've got 4000 hrs total approx 2500 on geophysical survey , 1000 cattle mustering and I hold an Australian Ag rating , I'd like to know if there is many openings for Ag 2 positions in SouthAfrica I would be here for the long term . My email is jrspencer73@gmail.com , hope to hear from someone .
Cheers Jayson Spencer

Aug 01, 2015
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Mar 02, 2015
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Requirements for Ag rating and free lanch jibs NEW
by: Anonymous

Hi everyone, I'm JJ and would like to know what requirements do I need to do my ag rating. Also if someone can please point me in a direction as to where I can do this rating. I'm currently busy with my PPL and should finish early next year.

I'm willing to fly for free until I have enough hours to do the CPL exams. I'll then continue doing ag but then for a salary of course. Contact me on johannesllotter@gmail.com if you have any info regarding my post.

I thank you and God bless!

Oct 17, 2014
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Crop spraying pilots are great people
by: Kevin Vercuil

My dad used to fly with a company in the western cape, Boland Airspray services and I spent many happy years at the airfield in Malmesbury. I never went into flying, something I still regret. My first flight was also at age three in a Pawnee 235 and later on in the 80's in the Brave 375 sitting on the log books as he couldn't see over my head if I sat strapped in.To anybody that thinks crop spraying is easy or some old timer just flying up and down a field, go and stop by a airfield and talk to these pilots They can all tell you some or other story and you will never meet a nicer bunch of people. I still enjoy stopping by airfields and talking to the pilots or just looking at the aircraft. My kids and grandson all enjoy the trips and love the aircraft as well.

Jun 23, 2014
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Any advice on Ag-Rating at FAWB / Pretoria ?
by: MC

Good day.

Could anyone please advise me on who - if any - would be able to assist me with a Ag-rating at Wonderboom / Pretoria ?
I would greatly appreciate it.

e-mail:
mcmarkuscoetzee@gmail.com



Mar 25, 2014
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Any Jobs for an old but not bold pilot?
by: Anonymous

Sprayed in Rhodesia 1976 and South Africa 1985. Any jobs around now. Age 61 Flown just about everything since. Like to go back to ag work id possible.

Richard : rikeskie@yahoo.com

Mar 10, 2014
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Oor die Pawnee ZS-EVG
by: Gawie Steyn

Weet jy dalk by wie jou Pa die pawnee gekoop het?My Pa het Vlakte Lugspuitdiens edms Bpk gehad op Malmesbury. Hy het 2 Pawnees gehad EVG en IKT.
Wil graag weet of die besigheid nog bestaan.
My oudste seun ,met oupa se name is ook n vlieenier.
Hy stel baie belang in oes bespuiting werk op die oomblik vir WOF(Working on Fire)en het so ietsie oor 1000 uur agter sy naam.
My email is gawiesteyn@mweb.co.za en nr 0828962956 as jy my dalk wil kontak.Groete

Jan 27, 2014
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pilots license
by: Francois van Rensburg

What qualifications (pilots license) do you need to become a AG PILOT? Do you offer training? I

Jan 10, 2014
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Fifty-five years 35,000 hrs an applicator
by: Zed-Air

.... remember 1. wings level, ball in the center on entry 2. Cut the load, increase the water when the temp goes up. 3. Narrow down the swath when the wind picks up and 4. Pull out when the light-bar indicates 3 meters off center ....

Close -- but no Conmemoración del Natalicio de Eugenio María de Hostos/Birthday of Eugenio María de Hostos Box for you this January 11!

Better yet: wings level; Ball? What ball? Head up and out of the office; Water? What water? That's for irrigators, not aerial applicators, creates "fines" and maximizes the probability of off-target drift; Don't work when it's calm, you'll maximize the quality of the coverage, penetration of the foliage and the swathe when there's a cross wind but; True. Three meters of your line is a failed run.

One out of four's not bad.

Dec 18, 2013
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jou pa
by: Machiel

Het in die begin jare van jou Pa se lugbespuiting baie van sy puik diens gebruik gemaak, hy was 'n wonderlike mens. Kontak my asb by 0716750885

Nov 18, 2013
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Crop Spraying
by: Walter

Dankie Chris,dit is n baie stresvolle werk wat ons doen maar ek ruil dit vir niks.Daar is n klomp jong manne wat nou inkom.Dit is verblydend om te sien daar is nog jong manne wat bereid is om te werk vir hulle geld,soos jy weet,werk sal jy werk.

Vlieg veilig.

Oct 21, 2013
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Becoming an AG pilot
by: Anonymous

Hi,

Thanks for a great article! Information about training in SA and arial application is quite limited.

Are there any South African flight schools that offer AG pilot training. If you have completed your PPL, what would be the next step to start a career in arial application in South Africa.

Regards

Feb 26, 2013
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by: DVZ

Thx Chris, your article has a positive note. I've been in the business for many years ( I taught your father to fly ) and I do agree that the need for ag aircraft will always be there. It is my impression that ag flying is on the increase. The most important contribution that you and I can make, is to provide a solid service. The grower should not have to wait too long for us. We must be committed to a certain area and look after it. There's nothing so disturbing than hearing of a pilot/operator shooting off to bigger fields and leaving his regular customers without an aeroplane.
That in my opinion is the single biggest killer of ag flying.
Keep up the good work and remember 1. wings level, ball in the center on entry 2. Cut the load, increase the water when the temp goes up. 3. Narrow down the swath when the wind picks up and 4. Pull out when the lightbar indicates 3 meters off center.

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