(and how do we get nice, big, pest-free crops?)

Pesticides! but more specifically, Crop Dusters!

By Simone Yingst

May 19, 2010


A bit of Crop Dustin’ history

The first aerial application of agricultural materials was of seed in New Zealand in 1906 with a hot air balloon.

3335761.jpg(Similar to the type of balloon used in New Zealand)

First aerial pesticide application in the United States took place in 1921 in Dayton, Ohio, in order to battle some particularly nasty catalpa sphinx caterpillars with lead arsenate. They used a modified plane similar to this:

Randy_Meador_Jenny_Jn-4.jpg Curtiss JN 4 ("Jenny")

After the successful eradication of the catalpa sphinx caterpillars in Ohio, those Curtiss biplanes were used all over the south in order to combat whatever unwanted creatures were lurking in farmer's cotton fields. Particularly boll-weevils.

What we now know as Delta Airlines was first established as a commercial crop dusting company in the south. The "Delta" part of the name comes from all the areas along the Mississippi Delta that needed insecticides and fungicides.

Crop Dusters, or as the prefer to be called, aerial applicators, is a very serious and hazardous career. Not only does on need to be adept at navigating a plane, but also at flying low over the target crops and avoiding power-lines and trees. Or whatever may pop up at them. Crop dusters need to have 360 visibility in order to see where to fly the plane, where the insecticide, fungicide, or seed is going to land, as well as avoid previously mentioned obstacles. Also, they need to try and control the amount of drift of whatever substance their dropping as much as p ossible. There is typically a person on the ground in the field directing the pilot as to where they may need to reapply their product. I read somewhere that the pilot and flagger would joke after coming back from a field that they would be immune from mosquitoes for a few days following that job.

In the 1940's, the New Zealand government began testing the idea of aerial fertilization possibly mixed with seed, but shortly nixed that idea, and just stuck with fertilizers. After World War II, crop dusting became one of the main ways a farmer would apply pesticides as well as fertilizer to his crops considering there was a surplus of planes as well as men to fly them. This practice slowed down a bit after the 1962 publication of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, as well as after the instigation of EPA as well as the Clean Air and Water Acts in the 1970's.

Now, a lot of crop dusting, and specifically pesticide application, is done at night. While this does lower the probability that anyone will be out and about in the to-be-treated fields, visibility has decreased, and unless the pilot has night vision, it is terribly difficult to apply things correctly at night.



"The rumbling engine of a crop duster's airplane jolted Frances Sebring awake.
The cooler in her mobile home was sucking in the vapor of chemicals that were supposed to have landed on a nearby cotton field. The cloud of insecticides swept across the mobile homes of Sebring and her two neighbors on the outskirts of Florence, leaving a path of dead fish and panicked families.
"I thought he [the pilot] was taking the top of the roof off," says Sebring, who ran outside, trying to escape the choking stench. "I couldn't go anywhere to get away from it."
The 68-year-old found her backyard canal, and another pond and canal next door, littered with floating fish. But she was more worried about her son-in-law next door, who had terminal lung cancer.
"The odor is part of living in the country, but you don't expect it to be dumped on you," says Sebring, who has lived in the small farming community for 14 years. "You can have your life ruined with one application."" (from Phoenix New Times)

The above selection is the worst case scenario for an aerial applicator. Having your product drift and actually damage property and endanger lives. I feel that its experiences like the above that have led to a decline in crop dusting. There have been many new advances in this industry, such as different methods of dispensing pesticides or fertilizers; particularly in pellet forms, as well as preparatory things to do to the ground and to keep an eye on weather conditions before and after application. But even with all of these precautions, this still feels like an out-dated way of treating crops. It may have been innovative in the the 1920's, but that was before such a heightened awareness of our environment and how delicate it is.


Works Cited "Crop Dusting," "Clean Air and Water Act" (for background information)
Pest control services

Google image search "crop dusters," "hot air balloons 1900's"