The many advantages of aerial application

Aerial application can be just as effective as ground application, but that characterization does not do aerial application justice. Aerial application has many advantages. We thought it would be a good idea to review those advantages this month in case we need to articulate them to our customers and critics.

The advantages
One of the most obvious advantages of aerial application is no soil compaction. Driving ground equipment through a field leaves wheel tracks and compacts soil particles, reducing pore space and restricting oxygen and water movement into and through the soil and root zone. That compaction can be particularly bad on wet soils, sometimes making the soil like a brick and reducing yields. Wet soils never stop aerial applicators from spraying.

Moving ground equipment through a field also inevitably damages the crop, sometimes up to five percent of the plants. That damage can reduce crop yield much more than the cost of an aerial application.

The extra height above the crop canopy with aerial application can help create a more uniform spray pattern. Nozzles can be too close to their target and give an uneven application, especially when a ground boom does not stay level in rough and uneven terrain. Aerial application can also apply seed and dry fertilizer formulations more uniformly than ground application, giving higher yield potential.

Waiting to apply pesticides often costs growers money. The quicker growers control a pest problem, the greater the yield benefit. Often, weather only gives a small window to apply pesticides over today’s large farms. Aerial applicators can start applying pesticides earlier as they do not have to waste precious time waiting for soil to dry.

Many pesticides are only effective at specific pest and crop growth stages. If a grower misses that application window, those pesticides may not work and the crop can be lost. Once application starts, aerial applicators can apply large areas much faster, spraying more acres in an hour than a ground applicator can in a day. The ability to apply pesticides rapidly at their optimum time is a big advantage for aerial application.

Sometimes growers want to delay applications to reduce input costs, particularly when crop prices are low. Their hope is that the pest infestation will not develop enough to reduce yield, or that only one application will be effective if they wait for weeds to germinate or insects to hatch. When growers wait, aerial application is the best way to go. A crop never gets too big to make an aerial application, although the applicator will probably need to add a deposition and retention adjuvant to get the spray to penetrate the canopy and deposit where the pests are.

Ag pilots are the most trained applicators in the world. Okay, we concede much of that training is how to fly, but the average ag pilot has over 21 years of experience and received a lot of application education attending seminars, reading pesticide literature and participating in the National Agricultural Aviation Research & Education Foundation’s Operation S.A.F.E. (Self-regulating Application and Flight Efficiency) program. The S.A.F.E. program makes it possible for applicators to attend fly-in clinics and have their aircraft professionally analyzed and adjusted to minimize drift and maximize the efficacy of the application.

Today’s ag aircraft use sophisticated precision application equipment such as GPS (global positioning systems), GIS (geographical information systems), real time meteorological systems, variable-rate flow control valves, single-boom shutoff valves and smokers to identify wind speed and direction.

Growing aerial opportunities
Late season application of pesticides and fertilizers are a rapidly growing opportunity for aerial application. Growers increasingly need to apply fungicides, fertilizer, insecticides and plant growth regulators at late crop stages. The crop is never too big for aerial application although you will likely need a deposition and retention aid to get a pesticide to penetrate into the canopy and deposited where needed.

Experts have extensively studied and finding that late application of nitrogen fertilizer on corn as part of a two-step early and late system gives higher yields with less total N applied. That system consistently gives the highest corn yields on the Garr farm and making a second fertilizer application aerially is now our standard practice.

A new opportunity for aerial application is corn stubble management. The use of foliar fungicides and biotech insect resistance traits have increased stalk strength and slowed decomposition. The stalk residues can damage expensive tires and make planting and cultivation difficult. Aerial applicators can now apply biological products like GarrCo Digest™ to help manage tough corn stalk stubble.

For more information, contact John Garr at (765) 395-3441 or


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