Editor’s Note: Often times, spectacular images appear in the many news feeds that AgAir Update monitors about agricultural aviation. Such was the case for these images captured by Laura Haywood of Mountain Girl Photography. Laura visually tells the story of Tri-County Ag, located in Wray, Colorado. Greg Allen, one of Tri County Ag’s pilots and partner tells us about the business and the details of this western operation.
AAU: Tell us about the history of Tri County Ag. How did it get started, what airplanes did you begin with?
Allen: Tri County Ag was started by Kris and Laurie Jones in 2007. The two started out with a single AT-301, and later added an AT-401 and a radial 1340 Ag Cat mid-season of their first year. Aurora Co-Op purchased the flying service about three years ago, but Kris and Laurie have continued to manage the business.
AAU: How did you end up with the aircraft you are operating now, the AT-502 and AT-802?
Allen: I left farming in July of 2007. Kris hired me to help him on the ground and to learn the aerial application business. That first summer, I learned the loading pad, how to coordinate spraying and most importantly that this was the business I was born for. At the end of the season, Kris and I decided that I would buy his AT-401 and he would move up into an AT-602. Kris would mentor me into his operation as an independent contractor, and in return I would fly exclusively for him. I flew the AT-401 for a year and a half, then bought a geared Thrush that I operated around four years until I saved up the down payment for the AT-502 featured in the photos. This year was my third season with it.
AAU: The paint job on your 502 is unique. Any reason for that? What is the story behind it?
Allen: I bought the airplane from Rusty Linderman out of Texas. I understood at the time he had all of his planes painted to match. When I went to pick it up he was in the middle of building the famous “Dusty Crophopper” for Disney. I always like to be just a little different from the crowd, so the paint appealed to me.
Honestly, I was under a time crunch to get something bought because I spent most of the winter trying to get the Thrush sold! I could not buy until I got the money out of the Thrush. Rusty’s AT-502 was the best on the market in my price range and at the time the paint job felt like a little nod of approval from God. Lots of prayer went into making the decision to go that far into debt. Tri County Ag was growing fast and Kris and Laurie assured me that there would be work to support it.
AAU: What is the main crop you treat? Secondary crop?
Allen: We mainly treat potatoes, but wheat and corn are a close second and third. Our farmers grow lots of other specialty crops like dry-edible beans, sunflowers, pumpkins and alfalfa. We are blessed with good ground water here, so irrigation helps to even out the good and bad years for us.
AAU: What is your typical application rates?
Allen: We spray all of our crops at 2, 3 and 5 gallons per acre.
AAU: How are your aircraft setup (ie. which GPS, nozzles, etc)
Allen: We are very conventional here, utilizing SATLOCs and CP nozzles on all of our planes
AAU: Who are the other pilots that are flying for Tri County Ag?
Allen: Kris Jones still flies when needed, but Stan Mangus and Cody Perrin also fly the AT-802.This year Scott Gale also came over from Australia to help us out during our peak season.
AAU: What is your typical season?
Allen: This year our season ended a little early. We were pretty much done by the middle of September. Most years we fly a little longer, but are almost always finished by October.
AAU: How long have you been actively ag flying?
Allen: I bought my AT-401 in 2008 and have been full time ever since. This year was my eighth season.
AAU: . Is that a commercially available sidewinder (in photo) or did you build it?
Allen: My dad and I built it for the old forklift. I have had several people tell me that with a little refinement, I could probably sell them, but have never taken the time.
AAU: Does the AT-502 and AT-802 have individual roles or do you interchange them? (i.e. AT-802 for only dry work, etc)
Allen: The airplanes are pretty much interchangeable, I have always flown the dry work in the AT-502, but we do very little dry applications here, only rye seed in standing corn for pasture in late August or early September.
AAU: Any parting thoughts?
Allen: I was born into a family of pilots. My dad was and still is my primary instructor. Funny, he always warned me away from ag flying! My uncle flew in the military and then was a pilot for Northwest Airlines. But, he always warned me away from the airlines! I wanted to go into the military, but my eyes were not good enough, so I went to college in Longview Texas at LeTourneau University to become either a corporate pilot, or a missionary pilot. But, by the time I graduated with a Bachelors in Aviation Technology, I had too much debt to be a missionary pilot and not enough experience to be a corporate pilot. By then, I had a family to support so I went back to the farm until God gave me the chance to fly ag. Now I am where I was destined to be.