Decision Time: Buy The Planes Or Partner With Pilots

Aerial Application PlaneRetailers can meet grower demand for aerial application in a number of ways. Several CropLife 100 companies have chosen to invest in their own planes – in some cases purchasing entire aerial businesses – and to navigate the complexities that come with this service. Other retailers contract with local independent pilots to meet their growers’ needs.

Doing It Yourself

Let’s start with the plane. Some of the latest turbine aircraft with capacities of 500 gallons can cost more than $1 million. Then there are the expenses associated with maintaining the aircraft. Unscheduled engine overhauls, for instance, can cost as much as $300,000 depending on the complexity of the job, says Craig Bair, aerial SSE manager at Wilbur-Ellis Co. And don’t forget the hangar space needed for the plane.

Also consider staffing – you need a qualified pilot and a skilled mechanic nearby, as well as a trained ground crew. Pilots want to take a job with an operator that has a proven track record of being able to keep an aircraft and operator busy, says Bair. If there is not enough work for him in a trade area, a dealer will have to cultivate work elsewhere.

Pilots need to meet the requirements of state and local authorities to be cleared to conduct aerial application from the local airport. Then too, there are state and federal licenses to get in time to do aerial applications and the ongoing training needed to maintain them.

As for mechanical expertise? “There are not many aircraft mechanics familiar with the specialized equipment installed on the modern spray plane,� Bair warns.

Service expenses extend from personnel to a product and fuel delivery infrastructure and operating costs as well. And more funds are needed for liability insurance and safety measures.

One final financial aspect: consider proper depreciation lives for airframes and engines, says Loren Koeman, regional business analyst with Wilbur-Ellis Co. “Tax depreciation often does not match up well with actual lives of components.�

When Contracting Works

In light of the demands of owning and operating planes, most industry members we talked with thought contracting with an aerial business is the best way to provide air application, especially in the Midwest where the time frame for using the pricey equipment is so short.

“In the past we have talked with and done business with retailers that have tried both owning and contracting. In my personal opinion using a local aerial applicator is the best choice,� says Derek Shannon, Townsend Aviation, Monticello, IN. He says these pilots are usually experienced veterans.

Having control of the timing of applications for customers is one of the biggest concerns a retailer might have about contracting, but planning ahead is a great help. Mike Carrell, branch manager with Ceres LLP, Wingate, IN, says at winter meetings with customers, his company will often offer a prepay discount on fungicides. Customers will buy and request an aerial application, then Carrell can go to his aerial applicator to at least offer an initial idea of the number of acres to be serviced – so pilots can schedule accordingly. Tony Goede, aerial manager with BASF, estimates that 70% of the aerial application market is still last-minute, though pilots do have a feel for the volume of work that could hit their area.

Goede says the other biggest worry for retailers when hiring out for aerial work is trust – an issue that also emerged from our reader survey. “For years the ag pilot has simply been summoned in emergencies in Corn Belt geographies,� Goede says. The retailer has had limited contact with him, which decreases the chance to build a trusting relationship. The solution is to find a good ag pilot who takes the time to build relationships and who runs his business honestly.

Return on investment typically is not high with either owned or contracted planes, Koeman admits, but aerial application is definitely one way to differentiate a business from other retailers.

Leave a Reply

Aerial Application Stories

Aerial ApplicationAerial Application Special Report – Sponsored by Air Tractor
September 1, 2012
As the 2012 season winds down in the United States, the trend I’ve seen in previous years continues...more and more growers are choosing aerial application to control diseases and pests. Read More
Aerial ApplicationThe Role Of Aerial Application
September 1, 2012
CropLife Contributing Editor Lisa Heacox examines the explosive growth in aerial application in recent years. Read More
Aerial ApplicationA Snapshot Of Aerial Application
September 1, 2012
To understand how aerial application is viewed by the marketplace, CropLife conducted a survey of its readers, which produced some interesting results. Read More
Aerial application nozzles at work.
Aerial ApplicationAerial Applicators Can Join Resistance Fight
September 1, 2012
Aerial application, when used in a systematic approach to crop protection, can deliver prompt, accurate and efficient control of pests and resistant weed species. Read More
Trending Articles
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
ManagementWashington Update, Dow-DuPont Earnings, and the Passing of an AGCO Legend
April 27, 2017
Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj talk about the latest Beltway news, crop protection company 1st quarter numbers, and the Read More
Crop InputsFlying Under the Radar No More, FMC Goes Big
April 13, 2017
Describing FMC as “under the radar,” admittedly, is probably a stretch. But in a snap of the fingers, FMC upped Read More
Young Corn Plants
Crop NutritionStill Hunting Yields
April 1, 2017
There’s no denying it — the agricultural marketplace today is undergoing a fundamental shift in fortunes. Not too many years Read More
Latest News
Photo credit: The United Soybean Board/The Soybean Checkoff.
Seed/BiotechKansas State University Researchers Find New Pathogens …
May 24, 2017
A single seed seems so simple. Put it in the ground, give it some care, and you’ve soon grown food. Read More
Soybean Field
HerbicidesNew Dicamba Herbicide Premix Coming Soon from Syngenta
May 24, 2017
Syngenta has announced the name of its new herbicide featuring the active ingredients of S-metolachlor and dicamba. Upon registration by 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
FungicidesSyngenta Launches New Seed Treatment Fungicide
May 22, 2017
Syngenta has announced the launch of PLENARIS seed treatment fungicide for the control of downy mildew in sunflower. PLENARIS contains Read More
Corn close up
Crop InputsMonsanto’s First HPPD Herbicide Garners EPA Appro…
May 19, 2017
Monsanto announced today that EPA has federally approved Harness MAX Herbicide, the first herbicide in the Monsanto portfolio to provide Read More
ManagementPrecision Planting Deal, China Developments, and Enviro…
May 18, 2017
Editors Eric Sfiligoj and Dan Jacobs discuss the latest news on John Deere’s now dead deal for Precision Planting, China’s Read More
Soybean aphid leaf
InsecticidesMulti-state Research Reveals IPM Best Option for Treatm…
May 17, 2017
About 89.5 million acres of soybeans will be planted across the U.S. in 2017 — a record high, according to Read More
GROWMARK-2017-Interns
CropLife 100GROWMARK Names 2017 Summer Interns
May 16, 2017
Forty-two college students are exploring agricultural career opportunities this summer as GROWMARK interns. They are working at FS member cooperatives Read More
Migrant farm workers
LegislationTrump: Immigration Crackdown Won’t Impact U.S. Ag…
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
Flooded corn in Indiana
FertilizerBoth Wet and Dry Conditions Threaten Nitrogen Loss
May 15, 2017
The weather is notoriously unpredictable, leading to challenges for planting, harvesting and applying the nitrogen (N) your corn crop needs. Read More
farmer Kip Tom
Precision AgAg Tech: On the Cusp of Something Big?
May 15, 2017
The investment and ag-tech sectors’ continuing courtship of agriculture, smoldering for three or four years now, was well in evidence at 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
Greg Musson, Gar Tootelian
ManagementOpinion: Shaking Your Perspective in Ag Retail
May 12, 2017
Some of you I’m sure have encountered our recently retired salesman extraordinaire, Dan Bellanger. He worked in the industry for Read More
Exterior view of CPS Big Lake facility which includes enclosed receiving and load out area
CropLife 100New Alternative Weed Resistance Traits Could Experience…
May 12, 2017
It wasn’t too many years ago that ag retailers and their grower-customers could hardly wait for new options to fight Read More
Diane Allemang and Dan Jacobs
Crop InputsFMC Agricultural Solutions, Casa Pacifica Partner to He…
May 11, 2017
FMC Agricultural Solutions is teaming up with Casa Pacifica Centers for Children and Families, an organization that supports vulnerable children Read More
UncategorizedWhat’s Up With ARA
May 11, 2017
CropLife Editor Eric Sfiligoj talks with Brian Reuwee regarding what issues are on the docket for the Agricultural Retailers Association. Read More
BASF Maglis tablet retailer grower
Precision AgQ&A: What BASF’s Latest Foray into Precision …
May 11, 2017
In late April, BASF agreed to acquire U.S. precision ag player ZedX, a leader in the development of agronomic weather, Read More
Pam Marrone
Crop InputsMarrone Bio Innovations Enters into Distribution Agreem…
May 11, 2017
Marrone Bio Innovations, Inc., a leading global provider of bio-based pest management and plant health products for the agriculture markets, Read More