Once dealers make the decision to partner with an established aerial business, it may not be difficult to find a good fit. The ag aerial universe is rather small. Tony Goede, aerial manager with BASF Corp., cites the 1990s film that claims there are merely “Six Degrees of Separation” between any two people on the planet – in the aerial application world there are only about, umm, two degrees, he says.
It’s “really easy” to check someone out either through the national or state association or another ag operator, says Kevin Brown, Bluestem Aerial Sprayers, Cushing, OK.
In fact, membership in national and state associations can be a good indicator of the professionalism of a pilot, said many industry contacts we talked with. The largest group in the U.S. is the National Agricultural Aviation Association (NAAA), headquartered in Washington D.C. The organization has a great number of resources available to keep aviation businesses informed (including training), as well as a team that lobbies for the industry’s interests on Capitol Hill and beyond. Its sharp website and magazine are gold mines of information for both those working in ag aerial companies and those outside the industry with questions.
Go local, suggested our contacts. These operators have the best understanding of potential issues of the local geography. If a neighbor company is not able to take on your clients, the owner will often times call in another trusted operator from outside the area to help, says Loren Koemen, regional business analyst with Wilbur-Ellis Co.
Ask growers, too, where to find pilots. Growers themselves have a pretty good network and know who the good aerial applicators are, says Gary Fellows, tech service fungicide and seed treatment manager with BASF: “They want to use the best.”
Details About Operations
In fact, experience that makes a company “the best” is a key factor to check into. Ask how long a pilot has been in business and touch on what kind of track record he’s had with issues such as drift. Make sure the operation has all the equipment and technology – in good condition – that it needs, as well as support staff such as a mechanic.
Also ask if an applicator attends plane calibration clinics each year, such as Operation S.A.F.E. (Self-Regulating Application & Flight Efficiency) fly-ins, offered by NAAA. The association actually publishes a list of attendees on its web site. State departments of agriculture can also provide pilot information.
Scott Schartz, owner of Schertz Aerial Service, Hudson, IL, listed some other good nuts and bolts issues to cover: Find out if the business carries all necessary liability insurance and workers’ compensation. Check out its facilities, containment structures, safety measures, and inspection requirements. Make sure applicators have all licenses and certification. And ask about any network that the company might be a part of and about how it manages additional planes to help at peak work load times.
A specific service valued by Mike Carrell, branch manager of Ceres LLP at Wingate, IN, was the ability to provide as-applied maps. “When we first started using aerial, customers were watching planes from a mile away and swearing our contractors were spraying the wrong field – or not spraying at all,” explains Carrell. An as-applied map stapled to the job invoice sent to the grower solves the problem.
Many of our contacts stressed the need to build a solid relationship with aerial applicators. Aerial companies with that positive bond and good communication deliver better service and can fulfill the demands of a retailer, especially when they need to forecast workload and bring in other pilots if needed, says Goede.
A major point made by all our industry contacts was the level of professionalism evidenced in the ag aerial industry today. Gone are the days of the wild-eyed cropdusters that many in the general public still cling to. The majority of applicators are highly skilled pilots and businessmen committed to their customers and communities.