I was working out in my garden last summer when a bright yellow airplane started flying overhead. My subdivision, which used to be a strawberry patch, is surrounded by corn and soybean fields. I watched as the plane would sweep across the nearby field, precisely spraying the corn crop before turning around low over my house. I immediately turned into a little kid and watched the whole production with fascination.
Believe it or not, this August marks the 100th anniversary of agricultural aviation.
An account of that first test flight is retold in Agricultural Aviation’s Spring 2021 issue. Back in 1921, modern pesticides were in their infancy. Farmers struggled to find reliable and effective pesticides. And even if they could, applying those pesticides was nearly impossible. Hand spraying was an option, but one person could cover only about 8 acres of crops per year. Some horse or mule-driven pumps and sprayers were available. But even covering 125 acres a year meant large farms required multiple units, something that wasn’t always feasible.
So how could the process be improved? C.R. Nellie, an entomologist, had an idea: maybe airplanes could help. He teamed up with J.S. House, also an entomologist, and the Ohio Agricultural Experiment Station to run the first-ever aerial spraying experiment.