ORAN, ARGENTINA — It is quite a distance to travel in Argentina from Bahia Blanca north to Oran; it is best if traveled by air line. Even so, it took all day, of course the late departure due to fog in Bahia Blanca was the main reason. With an overnight stop in Salta and an interesting drive to Oran in a rental car, I was finally able to meet my friend Luis Curá of Luis A. Curá Fumigaciones Aéreas.
When I told Luis that I would only be able to stay for a few hours, I could see the disappointment in his eyes. Luis had invited me to visit him when I first started traveling to Argentina several years ago. Until now, I had not been able to make the long trip north to Oran. Even so, I was still not able to stay as long as Luis would have liked. But, all the same, he was a gracious host during my short visit.
Luis Curá began ag flying when he was 20 years old. After two decades, in 1991, he bought the company he had been flying with from José Martin and formed Luis A. Curá Fumigaciones Aéreas in Oran. The company had two Argentinean-built Pawnees. In 1993, Luis added a third Pawnee. His company had begun to fly over cotton and was becoming very busy. Cotton was new to the region, only being introduced in 1993. Before, the major crops were cane, soybeans and corn. Work for the company began expanding at a rapid rate. “It was crazy,” says Luis, from so much work from the cotton acres and two large cane companies.
In 1996, Luis bought his first Ayres Turbo Thrush from Eduardo Siper of Siper Aviacion in Buenos Aires. Eduardo must have been a good salesman, for only from his advice and the favorable advice from Erminio Rodriguez, Luis bought the Thrush before ever flying one! Luis must not have regretted the purchase, because he now owns three Ayres Turbo Thrush, all powered by Garrett engines.
The first Thrush Luis bought was a dual cockpit version, the first dual cockpit Thrush to arrive in Argentina, powered by a TPE331-6 with a 510-gallon hopper. Luis’ thoughts were for the safety of his pilots, with the dual cockpit Thrush allowing for training. The other two Thrush Luis added are powered by the TPE331-1 engine and have 400-gallon hoppers.
Because the company was growing so quickly, Luis had to take the role of manager instead of chief pilot. This was a difficult decision for Luis. But, it was necessary to structure a successful company. With the three Thrush, the company is capable of flying over 685,000 acres in a season (1999), compared to only 210,000 acres with three Pawnees.
In 2000, the demand for aerial applications was cut by half in Oran. No cotton was planted due to losses by cotton growers, many who had to file bankruptcy. A lot has changed when it comes to farming in Oran. Five years ago there were large areas of bananas, the only region in all of Argentina that grows bananas. Now, Ecuador imports into Argentina depressing the Argentinean banana market to less than 12,000 acres, 10% of the acreage from the past. Supposedly, new regulations are being introduced in Argentina to limit imports.
Now, the major crop for the region is white beans with about 210,000 acres planted. Although, the cotton production infrastructure is still in place. This means that should the commodity price of cotton return to a profitable level, cotton again would be king. In 1999, cotton was approximately 70% and beans 25% of the acres flown by Luis’ company. During the 2000 season, there was an abrupt turn about with beans 75%, other crops 25% and no cotton acres being treated. Where there were cotton fields before, now are bean fields.
However, the bean fields do require treatment by air. Luis’ Thrushes will make about three to five applications over an acre of beans, much less than the eight to twelve applications needed for cotton. The beans are first treated with a site-prep application of glyphosate in December and January. In February a pre-emergent application might be applied, right at the cracking stage. In a wet year, fungicides will be applied. Usually, the beans will receive an insecticide application for white flies, sometimes with a foliar feeding fertilizer added to the mix. Depending on the need, often a grower will make one or two applications, seven to ten days apart, of Flex, a selective herbicide for beans, over the top. Some growers use gramoxone as a last application in April or May to defoliate the leaves of the beans.
Luis noted that for the first time the sugar companies are using the aircraft more on cane. There is a tremendous number of acres of cane in the Oran region. Should the cane growers adopt the aerial application policy of applying glyphosate as a growth regulator (forcing the cane to produce more sugar), the applications would help replace the loss of cotton spraying.
Oran is Luis Curá’s base of operation. The company uses about ten additional runway sites that are on growers’ land. More and more of Luis’ operation is from airstrips other than Oran. Sometimes the residents of Oran will complain about the smell of the chemicals, although the Luis Curá Fumigaciones Aéreas operation is one of the cleanest in Argentina. Luis has contemplated relocating to an area about 60 miles to the northeast, away from the city and closer to the bean fields. Although Bolivia is only about 150 miles to the north from Oran, Luis’ company does not make any applications in that country.
However, all the applications that Luis Curá Fumigaciones Aéreas make are very exact, using the Satloc GPS system with a moving map. Just recently, in 1999, the company added the units providing printouts to the company’s customers, giving a detail map of each application. Luis believes the Satloc GPS is an ideal sales tool, proving to his customers how accurately an aerial application can be made. Each grower receives his invoice in a folder that includes a color printout of the application.
The company pilots, Eduardo Pais, Carlos Lanata, and Alberto Cardinali, each flying an Ayres Turbo Thrush, typically are dispersed on a mission that will be a 1750-acre field. Using the AU5000 Micronair atomizers, rates of two gallons per acre for fungicide on beans and three gallons per acre for fungicide on bananas are the norm. Insecticide applications are usually made at one gallon per acre.
With glyphosate and other herbicides, Luis switches his pilots’ aircraft dispersal system to the CP Nozzles, that the company recently bought from ArAvia, based in Venado Tuerto, this year. The glyphosate applications are made at 1.5 gal/ac containing as much as two quarts of glyphosate per acre in the mixture. Before CP Nozzles, Luis’ aircraft were outfitted with Spraying Systems nozzles oriented straight back for herbicide work. After the articles Luis has read (AAU), and discussing the matter with others, Luis believes his company will be better able to minimize drift, while giving his customer a superior application using the CP Nozzles.
If there was one thing in common that I noticed about the last three aerial application companies I visited in Argentina; Fumagro Trabajos Aéreos y Terrestres, Fumigaciones Rodriguez and Luis Curá Fumigaciones Aéreas, it was their marketing skills. Each company devoted much time and money to market their company to their customer. I noticed extremely clean operations with signs and flags not only designating the companies’ locations, but saying good things about the company and their customers. Then, I noted, each company used GPS to reinforce to their customers the professionalism of their pilots. And, the use of brochures and other gifts, like key chains, logo dinner plates, hats and all the things a grower likes to receive as a thank you for their business.
In Latin America, the operation of a turbine aircraft requires a lot of acres to be flown during a season and at a reasonable price. Operating a successful ag flying service is obviously more than climbing in the cockpit and flying to the field with a full load and returning empty in as short a time as possible. A successful company addresses all the parameters of doing business with its customers. And, Luis Curá has done that very well. Adopting from a disastrous end to cotton spraying, to working the bean and cane fields to his company’s advantage. When the acres seemingly are no longer available, the really good businessmen immerse themselves in their business and devise a solution.