Farming from the Air

Because the morning hours are usually less windy, I would often hear airplanes buzzing over our house while getting ready for school as a little girl. 

 friends learning about ag airplanes at the rural airport

friends learning about ag airplanes at the rural airport

Early to Rise

I remember thinking, “Oh… that pilot must have gotten up really early to be in his plane and flying before I even leave the house.”  It’s true.  Like many other dedicated business owners, agriculture professionals usually rise long before the sun.  

 observing our rice harvest from a plane

observing our rice harvest from a plane

Farming from the Air

Driving tractors over fields during the growing season is sometimes impractical or impossible, so farmers often hire an ag airplane service to spread fertilizer, insecticide, herbicide or even seed.  Wind makes flying difficult, and it also causes the product to be spread unevenly across the field.  Current technology has improved the pilot’s ability to precisely control where the product lands on the crop. 

 me in 6th grade

me in 6th grade

Flagging

When I was in elementary school, my oldest brother, who was farming with my dad at the time, would occasionally ask me to flag for him.  I LOVED flagging.  Even though I was young, this was a real job on the farm that I could do-- or at least try to do.  Two people stood on opposite ends of a field holding a big orange flag.  As the airplane passed overhead, each person would wave his flag for the pilot to see.  Once the pilot had flown over, each flagger would walk the same distance across the field and get ready to wave his flag again.  While the flaggers were taking their steps, the airplane would turn around and come back for another pass. 

 cousins taking off in a small plane used for observation

cousins taking off in a small plane used for observation

Not So Precise

This was the only way the pilot would be able to keep track of where he had sprayed in the field.  Needless to say, there was plenty of room for human error, especially by a distracted little girl.  I did the best I could, and helping in a practical way made me feel very grown up.  

 friends posing with the airplane as it loudly takes off

friends posing with the airplane as it loudly takes off

Technology Strikes Again

Modern ag planes are equipped with GPS systems that allow the farmer to plot each field’s longitude and latitude coordinates in his home office.  The system can then direct the pilot accurately as he makes passes over the field.  This allows less overlap and therefore uses less product. 

 standing in front of an ag plane

standing in front of an ag plane

Site Specific Farming

Another advantage the GPS system provides is the ability to monitor and record specific areas in a field that may need fertilizer or other attention.  This is one example of Site Specific Farming which allows the farmer to manage each area of the field as needed instead of applying unnecessary products to plants that are perfectly healthy.  The GPS technology is so precise that once the pilot is in the air, the system will follow a perscribed plan to open and close the drop hatch on the plane at just the right time to release the product only on the areas needed. 

 yellow ag plane and white passenger plane

yellow ag plane and white passenger plane

Environmentally Friendly 

This beneficial technology drastically reduces the amount of product used.  It also eliminates the accidental drifting of the product onto unwanted areas such as adjoining crops, animal habitats, and natural waterways.

 a Farm Camper exploring the cockpit of an ag plane equipped with state-of-the-art technology

a Farm Camper exploring the cockpit of an ag plane equipped with state-of-the-art technology

Technology brings enormous productivity gains to today’s farms.  Ag flying is just one area where the dynamic combination of modern technology and the farmer’s intelligence is creating terrific opportunities to balance the growing world population’s need to eat with our earth’s need to thrive.