Aerial assault against zebra chip

A crop duster sprays dye in September during the Idaho Agricultural Aviation Association Operation SAFE Spray Pattern Test Clinic, hosted at the airport in Gooding, Idaho.

In addition to being the most important industry in the world, agriculture is also the most interesting.

While many industries rely on people sitting in cubicles and staring at computer screens, agriculture involves a nearly limitless number and variety of occupations and activities. Most are related to growing, harvesting and selling crops and livestock, but they have one thing in common: they are outdoors, and they are fascinating in the challenges they present to farmers, ranchers and loggers and the hundreds of other occupations that work with them.

Few agricultural occupations, however, can match the excitement that aerial applicators have. Formerly known as crop dusters, these highly skilled pilots streak across fields, pastures and forests applying fertilizers, pesticides and seeds at more than 100 mph. At the end of a field they do a balletic turn and take another run at the field.

Anyone who has ever watched one of these impromptu “air shows” featuring those bright yellow planes during a summer morning appreciates the skills those pilots display every minute they are in the air. They make it look easy as they maintain their “situational awareness,” a pilot term for staying safe.

While planes can be used in many situations, helicopters are also used in hilly areas for spraying pesticides, drying cherries after rain, logging and even harvesting Christmas trees.

Thousands of aerial applicators operate in 45 states treating 127 million acres of cropland, according to the National Agricultural Aviation Association.

Many also join the battle against wildfires, dropping retardant and water and seeding areas that have been burned. They also are used to get rid of insects such as mosquitoes and gypsy moths that eat crops and spread disease.

In some areas, they seed clouds to wring as much rain and snow as they can from them.

While they are exciting and fascinating to watch, those pilots provide an irreplaceable service to farmers, ranchers and foresters.

They get our “thumbs-up.”

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