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Published June 02, 2014, 09:34 AM

Aerial industry basics

States track agricultural aviation in different ways, and comparable statistics aren’t available for North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and Montana. But officials in the four states provide these numbers:

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

States track agricultural aviation in different ways, and comparable statistics aren’t available for North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and Montana.

But officials in the four states provide these numbers:

• North Dakota has 110 aerial spray companies and 225 ag application aircraft.

• Minnesota has about 100 companies and 250 pilots.

• South Dakota has 278 aerial ag applicators.

• Montana has 67 aerial pesticide applicators.

Nationally, there are about 1,350 aerial ag application businesses, according to the National Agricultural Aviation Association. The organization also says the following.

• Aerial ag applicators once were known as “crop dusters” because they worked mainly with dry chemicals. Today, they use primarily liquid products.

• Early on, aerial ag applicators usually flew small, surplus war planes. Today, they fly much bigger, more sophisticated machines, some of which cost more than $1 million each.

• Fixed-wing aircraft account for 87 percent of aircraft used by ag applicators. Helicopters and other rotorcraft account for the rest. A rotorcraft is a flying machine that uses lift generated by rotor blades that revolve around a mast; helicopters are the most common type of rotorcraft.

• About 208 million acres of U.S. cropland are treated with crop protection products. Aerial application accounts for about a fifth to a quarter of that.

&bull: Aerial applications are used on nearly all crops. Corn, wheat, barley, soybeans, pasture and rangeland are most common.

• Aerial application allows large amounts of farmland to be treated quickly. The practice can be most attractive to farmers in wet growing seasons with short application windows.

• Aerial applicators, on average, have 21.3 years of industry experience. They must have their commercial pilot license. They also must be registered as commercial pesticide applicators and meet federal regulations dealing with low-level aviation operations.

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