The U.S.’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reports that the number of hours flown by crop dusters climbed 29 percent between 2003 and 2007 to more than 1.4 million hours a year. Because of the value of crops now, the farmer wants to protect that investment more through crop dusting to prevent disease. Crop dusters apply chemicals as a preventative measure. And the increasing use of minimal till practices, which reduce plowing to prevent erosion and protect soil quality, often requires more chemcial spraying. Sometimes on larger farms, crop dusters are the only option because ground equipment would smash crops.
Despite the increase in crop dusting, pilots are actually spraying less chemicals now. That’s because products used for disease control have changed, often requiring ounces of chemicals per acre instead of pounds per acre. According to Mark Hanna, an agricultural engineer at Iowa State University, global positioning systems have also increased efficiency, allowing more specific spraying of crops and ending the old practice in which pilots had to circle above a field, waiting to find out exactly where to spray.
When crop dusting became in the 1920′s in the U.S., pilots mainly applied dry chemcials. Today, they usually apply liquid products to control pests and diseases. Aircraft are now specially built for crop dusting. New and larger plane designs with more powerful engines and technology such as GPS have increased the prices on these aircraft up to $750,000 today.
Crop dusting is just one of many jobs for a pilot. You can fly for a crop dusting company — or own your own planes and run your own company. The mix of technical know-how, some level of danger, and business uncertainly makes for an exciting career. You can learn to fly at Phoenix East Aviation and prepare for a career as a crop duster.