Sky High Aerial Work To Continue

Aerial application, fungicide

It was a phenomenon by any measure, say all involved. The number of aerial applicators who took to the sky last year to apply strobilurin fungicides on corn made for one of the busiest years on record, says Andrew Moore, executive director of the National Agricultural Aviation Association (NAAA).

The group is still getting figures on how many hundreds of thousands of hours were flown. University Extension experts place the number at 10 million to 14 million acres treated in the Corn Belt, with yield gains as high as 16 bushels per acre logged for growers. BASF‘s Headline fungicide led the way, with 7 million acres treated, followed by Syngenta‘s Quilt and Bayer CropScience‘s Stratego.

But the rush of work also generated a host of challenges and problems, many of which growers, dealers, applicators, Extension, manufacturers, ag associations, and government agencies came together to solve over the winter months at stakeholder meetings.

“The pilots were hoping the wind would blow; they needed a rest,” chuckles Kay Harksen, co-owner of Harksen Aerial Spraying, Camanche, IA. Her husband Reynold and three other pilots faced “a siege of work,” clocking 12- to 14-hour days. Their story of fatigue is common throughout the Midwest, where fungicides had to go down on thousands of acres sometimes in the span of two short weeks.

Calling All Pilots

Steve Benoit, Benoit Aerial Spraying, Kankakee, IL, called the demand “horrendous,” explaining that his company works for 19 fertilizer dealers who support hundreds of customers. “I am a 40-year ag pilot and this is the first year I could not even fly my own airplane. I had to hire a pilot so that I could manage all that was going on,” he says. In fact, Benoit hired 12 other pilots from several states, including Florida, Mississippi, North Carolina, Texas, Arkansas, and Minnesota to help with the load.

The South was a good source of reinforcements, as some regions there faced dry weather and fewer acres of cotton, releasing pilots to head north, explains Ralph Storm, Storm Flying Service, Webster City, IA. “It fit in nicely with their season. They were done with their crops and migrated toward Iowa for July.”

Storm, a grower himself, sprayed his 800 acres of corn first, then did aerial application in his “home area” for the same growers he has worked with for some 38 years. He employed two pilots of his own and called in a friend from Kansas who he had helped with wheat earlier in the season. Chuck Eckermann, pesticide bureau chief with the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS), reports that normally the state has 99 pilots certified; in 2007, 274 came in from out of state.

Though hurried, bringing in out-of-state pilots was a serious undertaking last year. Benoit says his temporary staff needed a thorough understanding of Illinois spray rules as well as company policies on how to apply to avoid aggravating the public. He admits investigating and pre-qualifying potential pilots is a “tasking job,” as he determines who a pilot has worked for in the past and if his work record is satisfactory. “I’m trying to protect a lifelong business of mine by hiring someone else to do it. And there’s a great deal of responsibility in order to satisfy my customer base.”

To satisfy his customers, John Townsend, Townsend Aviation Inc., Monticello, IN, plans to bring in three more airplanes and more pilots for ’08. He’s looking for help in creative ways, including running a banner ad on his company’s Web site, stating: “Fly in the Corn Belt with us this summer,” and “If you’re looking for summer work — we could use you and your aircraft.”

NAAA’s Moore says last year’s increased itinerant aerial work highlights the importance of reciprocal agreements among states allowing ag pilots to quickly cross borders. NAAA is working with EPA to develop an aerial category exam in the hope that each state will use it, increasing the likelihood of state-to-state reciprocity of licenses. At presstime, EPA had wrapped up writing the test and the association was working on a study guide. Moore anticipates both components will be ready by the end of 2008. “Then it’s just a matter of EPA working with the states and the states determining whether to accept it or not,” he explains.

Containment Concerns

Bringing in out-of-state applicators also raised concerns among some Midwest aerial businesses about proper containment set-ups. “These guys that came riding in on the ‘dash for Iowa cash’ were sometimes not attached to containment structures,” says Storm. He points out that he spent quite a bit of money a long time ago putting up containment, and “we should all be under the same rules,” he emphasizes.

Many Midwest applicators and allied industry members echo his call for a level playing field. The Illinois Fertilizer and Chemical Association (IFCA) took up the cause in Illinois because “halfway through last season, the Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA) started realizing there was very little adherence to containment regulations, plus numerous drift complaints were coming in from people,” says Jean Payne, executive director.

In fact, in some cases, the department was not able to track complaints back to the source, to the aerial applicator, to investigate. “If citizens don’t feel like they’ve got some kind of appropriate response, the next phone call is to U.S. EPA. The last thing we need is the public feeling our Department of Ag is unresponsive,” says Payne.

She estimates IDOA received 30 to 40 aerial drift complaints (but then, ground spraying averages 100 reports each year). Planes were doing application in some regions that rarely see the technique, and citizens may have been startled and sensitized by their presence. “Most of the time, probably 60% to 70% of the time, no violations are recorded because of investigations,” Payne explains.

Indiana’s Townsend said that 875,000 acres were sprayed in his state but only 10 drift claims went to the state chemist to be pursued.
The situation was similar in Iowa where Eckermann reports the agency investigated 49 aerial drift reports. One applicator had his license suspended, while 12 cases resulted in civil penalties, and 10 were dismissed. Fifteen applicators received warning letters, six got advisory letters, and five cases are still pending.

A Map To Less Drift

A good map can go a long way to reduce off-target drift. Benoit said his company got some extra help from Rockford Map Publishers, which has worked closely with BASF to create an electronic version of the Rockford plat book. He said it was much easier to pull maps from the computer than a fax machine all the time. (In fact, Rockford reports that one aerial applicator tried the new resource and said it boosted his efficiency by 30%, a gain equal to adding three planes to his nine-plane fleet.)

Kay Harksen handles the maps at her family’s business. “The grower brings us a government map, then I in turn draw our own map from that, adding little things — if there’s a garden or a grove of trees or horses nearby that pilots need to be aware of.” She also arms pilots with a township map, with fields marked.

The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship is working on a sensitive crop registry that would identify areas such as organic farms and high-value fruit and vegetable crops that could be damaged by drift, says Eckermann. He hopes the voluntary registry will be available by mid-summer at the agency’s Web site, www.iowaagriculture.gov.

Besides drift incidents, Midwest newspapers were reporting plane accidents. NAAA’s Moore reports 2007 saw 77 accidents, actually the third lowest number on record for any year since records have been kept. “And once we get the General Aviation Activity Report from the FAA (Federal Aviation Authority) for 2007 later this year, it is very likely to show a significant drop of accidents per 100,000 hours flow for 2007 because of the heavy numbers logged as a result of treating the abundance of corn acres,” he adds.

Pushing The Window

Spraying of this “abundance” needed to be done within two to three weeks in the Corn Belt, depending on planting time and weather conditions, but Townsend in Indiana says his applications ran almost 30 days, thanks to late-planted corn. Still, he found the biggest challenge of the season was the time element. “It places a lot of pressure on everybody, the pilots and retailers that we work with.”

Some pushed the window a bit too early, causing damage called arrested ear syndrome, beer bottle, or nosing back. Grower John Reifsteck of Reifsteck Farms saw some neighbors who had booked early with aerial companies go ahead with fungicide applications, even when no disease was visible. He says they had been told if they didn’t commit, they couldn’t be guaranteed application — plus, they had already made a financial investment.

Storm speculates some growers, “being as efficient as they are,” tried to mix their Headline with their Roundup application in ground sprayers.

Dr. Gary Fellows, technical manager with BASF, cautions that the condition can be traced to other factors. “We also saw it with just herbicides where there was no fungicide at all,” he says. “And many geographic locations had problems with pollination,” a possible cause.

Fellows saw two consistent factors when fungicides were involved: an application was applied before tassels were fully emerged and an adjuvant was included in the tank.

Of Fuel And Fungicide

No matter when the aerial steamroller began, lots of fungicide and fuel needed to be on hand, and fast. Some aerial applicators stored chemicals on site. “Most of the fungicide is from our place,” says Benoit. “It isn’t feasible to have all our fertilizer dealers sit in line at the airport with all the different product. It’s pretty well got to be our product.” Then too, he had to arrange to have a semi-load of jet fuel brought in daily.

Townsend runs his business out of the White County Airport, where he is manager, and he chose not to range far from this base, to fly from a lot of satellite strips. He maintains a large fuel storage facility. In most cases the dealers he worked with would premix the fungicides and bring them to planes.

Retail dealership Brandt Consolidated, with locations across Illinois, played a huge role in helping the aerial firm it outsourced for spraying. The applicator started with three planes, then called in help from several states — to the tune of 17 planes at one point — to service about 400,000 acres total, a solid percentage of which was booked through Brandt.

“We had our employees helping out at his airstrip mixing product, delivering product, providing adjuvants, and fueling and loading planes,” says John Allen, retail sales manager. “It became a team effort.”

Last season Brandt’s Pat Schaddel, technical manager, even developed a Web-based order form to facilitate application bookings. The company’s 25-member sales team filled in cells on the form, then e-mailed it to the aerial applicator. The applicator liked the form so much, he asked to use it with his other retail customers. “It becomes a better tracking method than a copy of a plat book and a notepad stuck in the mail,” says Allen.

For ’08, Brandt programmers have added georeferenced map capabilities. “Now the aerial applicator is going to get the order form and the field information to complete the job in the same e-mail,” describes Allen.

Then And Now

The run of ’07 was not totally unexpected by some aerial applicators. Benoit says he saw growth coming because the fungicide truly worked to improve yields in two years of trials he tracked; plus, the price of grain allowed farmers to justify the cost of the spray.

In fact, Scott Schertz of Schertz Aerial Service, Hudson, IL, says the fungicide-on-corn program is something his company has been building for quite a while with various manufacturers. “It’s something we’ve actively worked on developing the market for the last 10 years. I had quite a few customers steadily increase using them as well as intensive farming practices to maximize the return on them,” he explains.

All of the applicators CropLife talked with were gearing up for more corn fungicide business this year — they’re just not sure how much more. “The market tells us that probably 12% to 15% of all corn planted got sprayed in 2007. I think the industry is looking at 20% to 25% in 2008,” says Allen. He anticipates business doubling for Brandt.

Indiana’s Townsend says: “We had some growers who thought they didn’t get the return that they did in 2006.” That was a wetter year, with more disease. “We did have some good yield responses, though, in ’07 — and what proves it is our bookings for 2008 are up,” he says. Truth be told, all work for his entire season was booked at the end of February.

In early March, Benoit Aerial customers were looking to book summer applications, but Benoit could not yet land on prices, to quote to some who wanted to prepay. His costs for necessities like fuel and insurance were still being determined.

“Plus, workman’s compensation on a pilot in the state of Illinois is 40% — that’s 40 cents of every dollar that a pilot makes is workman’s comp,” he says. “We really can’t sit here at this point in time and know exactly what our input cost is going to be per acre.”
Schertz, who strictly uses products from his own facilities, is expanding bulk buildings for the coming rush.

Many applicators CropLife talked with suggested deepening business relationships before the spraying starts. “Get with the aerial applicator you’re working with to try and give them a general idea of the amount of acres they’ll need to spray — so they can get enough equipment lined up to get that work done,” says Benoit.

Schertz says building that early relationship with a “quality local person” will be a boon when times get busy. Close communication with customers in ’07 allowed his firm to get 70% of growers’ maps done ahead of time, and allowed his three planes, plus the 11 he brought in, to be well organized.

In Indiana, Townsend says: “We know who’s going to grow corn, and we’re tackling the mapping situation early this year. That is the biggest logistical problem in this corn fungicide program, with such a tremendous amount of acres coming at one time.”

No matter the challenges for 2008, NAAA’s Moore encourages all aerial application stakeholders to stick together: “We’re all partners together in this agriculture industry and need to work together to protect it.”

Leave a Reply

Fungicides Stories

Frogeye leaf spot
FungicidesStrobilurin-resistant Frogeye Leaf Spot Threat Looms with Delayed Soybean Planting
June 13, 2017
Heavy spring rainfall throughout the South and Midwest delayed planting and created the perfect environment for diseases like frogeye leaf Read More
Soybean field
FungicidesAMVAC Closes Deal for Three Product Line Acquisitions from Adama
June 6, 2017
AMVAC Chemical Corp. announced the closing of its acquisition of three new products to its portfolio – abamectin insecticide, chlorothalonil Read More
FungicidesINNVICTIS CROP CARE Introduces New TREVO TRZ Fungicide
June 5, 2017
A new powerful force for disease control is now available from INNVICTIS CROP CARE, LLC. TREVO TRZ is a combination Read More
Case IH Patriot 2250 Sprayer
Crop InputsConfirm Disease Before Spraying Fungicides
June 1, 2017
With the discovery of a soybean disease pathogen that has developed resistance to a common fungicide, it’s more important than Read More
Trending Articles
PrecisionAg Vision Conference
Precision AgPrecisionAg® Vision Conference: Focused on the Future
June 13, 2017
PrecisionAg® is pleased to announce the return of its PrecisionAg Vision Conference, October 10-12, 2017. Based on overwhelmingly positive response Read More
Redbanded-stinkbug-on-soybean-Photo-credit-Thomas-County-Ag
Crop InputsExperts: Mild Winter, Early Planting Will Increase Soybean Insect Threat
June 12, 2017
Higher than average temperatures this past winter affected much of the nation, especially the South and Midwest. The National Centers Read More
Eric SfiligojMonsanto ‘Picks Its Battles’ by Nixing Deere Deal
May 23, 2017
Having been in the trade journalism game since the mid-1980s, I remember several watershed moments during my career. One of Read More
Migrant farm workers
LegislationTrump: Immigration Crackdown Won’t Impact U.S. Agriculture
May 16, 2017
President Donald Trump said he would seek to keep his tough immigration enforcement policies from harming the U.S. farm industry Read More
AGCO Ratliff featured
Eric SfiligojRemembering Robert Ratliff
May 15, 2017
With all the fast-paced happenings in agriculture this spring, with multiple mergers in the works and planting season in full Read More
Case sprayer nozzle closeup
EquipmentSpray Application: A Nozzle Renaissance
May 2, 2017
If you had asked four-decade ag veteran Mark Bartel, President of Wilger Inc., just a few years ago what lay Read More
Latest News
Young Corn Plants
Eric SfiligojLaunching New Seed Traits: Wait on China . . . Or Else!
June 26, 2017
In life, no one likes the waiting game. In agriculture, however, playing the waiting game is very important – especially Read More
Monsanto sign
Crop InputsMonsanto Speaks on Dicamba Issues in Arkansas
June 26, 2017
Monsanto’s Chief Technology Officer, Robb Fraley, issued the following statement following the Arkansas State Plant Board’s proposal to ban dicamba, Read More
Corn Field
Seed/BiotechCorn Insect Bt Technologies Offer Cost-effective, Proac…
June 26, 2017
When farm economics are challenging, farmers look for ways to bolster profit margins, including reducing input costs. Some may think Read More
Crop InputsArkansas Plant Board Votes to Ban Dicamba — Now W…
June 23, 2017
The Arkansas State Plant Board has voted to pass a proposed emergency rule to ban the use of in-crop dicamba, Read More
Engenia soybeans
Crop InputsBASF: ‘Closely Monitoring’ Dicamba Situatio…
June 22, 2017
BASF, whose Engenia herbicide is the target of more than 200 drift complaints in Arkansas, emailed the following statement to Read More
ManagementConsolidation Update
June 22, 2017
Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj discuss progress on manufacturer consolidation, and another big move for Midwest cooperative Central Valley Read More
Palmer pigweed seedhead in cotton
Crop InputsThreat of Dicamba Ban Looms in Arkansas
June 22, 2017
The Arkansas State Plant Board has rejected a proposed ban on the use of dicamba herbicide, but a procedural error Read More
Potash Agrium
Crop InputsAgrium-PotashCorp to become Nutrien upon Merger Complet…
June 21, 2017
Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan Inc. and Agrium Inc. have announced today that once the anticipated merger transaction closes, the new Read More
Crop InputsMidwestern BioAg Hosts TerraNu Fertilizer Plant Opening…
June 20, 2017
Last Friday, Midwestern BioAg was joined by over 80 local farmers, media and staff to celebrate the grand opening of Read More
Soybean Field
Industry NewsAligned Ag Distributors Names New President
June 19, 2017
Aligned Ag Distributors LLC announced this morning the appointment of Mary Tolke to the position of President/CEO, effective July 1. Read More
ManagementPlotting Corn, AGCO/Asmark’s Applicator Training Center…
June 15, 2017
Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj talk about their recent visits to Columbus, OH, and Bloomington, IL, along with an Read More
Seed/BiotechDow AgroSciences Announces Launch of Enlist Corn for 20…
June 14, 2017
Enlist corn will be commercially available in the U.S. for the 2018 growing season. Dow AgroSciences announced the launch today Read More
ASMARK AGCO Applicator Training Center
EmployeesAsmark, AGCO Open Training Center for Beginning Applica…
June 13, 2017
AGCO Corp. and the Asmark Institute have opened a new Applicator Training Center, created in a collaboration between the two Read More
Power to Do More Contest Winners
HerbicidesDow AgroSciences Announces Three Winners in Power to Do…
June 13, 2017
Thousands of votes have been cast and three farmers have been awarded the power to do more with a $10,000 Read More
Frogeye leaf spot
FungicidesStrobilurin-resistant Frogeye Leaf Spot Threat Looms wi…
June 13, 2017
Heavy spring rainfall throughout the South and Midwest delayed planting and created the perfect environment for diseases like frogeye leaf Read More
PrecisionAg Vision Conference
Precision AgPrecisionAg® Vision Conference: Focused on the Future
June 13, 2017
PrecisionAg® is pleased to announce the return of its PrecisionAg Vision Conference, October 10-12, 2017. Based on overwhelmingly positive response Read More
CHS St. Paul, MN fertilizer terminal
LegislationICGA Praises President Trump’s Remarks on Waterwa…
June 12, 2017
Illinois Corn Growers Association President Justin Durdan, a farmer from Utica, issued the following statement regarding President Donald Trump’s comments Read More
Wheat Growers
UncategorizedWheat Growers Names Tracy Linbo as Senior Vice Presiden…
June 12, 2017
Wheat Growers has hired Tracy Linbo as Senior Vice President of Agronomy. Linbo joins Wheat Growers after having served 10 Read More