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Ag aviation facts contradict columnist’s narrative
Feb. 5, 2023 6:00 pm
This response pertains to the Jan. 22 column “ … discussions on aerial application.” Editorial Fellow Austin Wu referenced “talking to a representative from the National Agricultural Aviation Association” for this piece. I am that representative. We spoke on a recorded Zoom call. I provided him an overview of the aerial application industry and references where he could find more data about its scope and importance (www.agaviation.org).
That information did not end up in his opinion piece. Instead, Wu spun a web of words that deceptively attempts to bait a reader to believe the industry is a culprit of Iowa’s loss of natural lands, global warming and for jeopardizing human health.
Wu was informed that the U.S. aerial applications account for 28% of crop input applications to U.S. cropland and its speed in applying everything from cover crop seeds, pesticides and fertilizers results in greater crop yields, more efficient use of inputs and allows more land to be used for other purposes such as water filtering wetlands, carbon sequestering forests and wildlife habitat. Wu was also informed that by being able to treat speedily by air — four times faster than other forms of application — it can eradicate a plant disease, insect and/or weed population before it moves beyond control and before multiple applications are necessary to achieve eradication.
In regards to fertilizers, Wu was informed that aerial application is ideal because it can spot treat where and when the plant needs it most rather than broadly treating during planting. This results in preventing runoff caused by rains due to using less product. He was also informed how cover crop seeds that hydrate, aerate and nourish soil are applied by air — on over 3.8 million acres annually before harvest of the cash crop — allowing more time to grow and serve its purpose of preventing soil runoff and improving soil health. These aerial applications account for sequestering 1.9 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent annually. The EPA equates this to removing approximately 412,000 cars with carbon-combustion engines from the roads annually.
Rather than mention any of this, Wu references misapplication events supplied to him by professors that don’t regulate the industry. U.S. regulatory data shows that aerial misapplications have markedly decreased over the years, are a minute portion of total applications made, and are no different in proportion to other forms of application. More importantly, aerial application technology constantly evolves, resulting in nozzle equipment forming better-sized droplets that fall quickly and within the downward air pressure formed by the aircraft. In addition, technology is being incorporated into the application systems to account for air movement to further improve the targeting of the application. As technology improves, the industry is constantly adapting to incorporate it.
Ag aviators are hardworking, family-oriented, small business owners, many who farm themselves. They intimately know the importance of good land stewardship and providing a globally safe food, fiber and biofuel supply. They and their crews mix, load and apply the products they use. Health studies show that their population has a similar or even greater life span to the general population, countering Wu’s unjust claim of pesticide-related health issues and his lack of informing the reader how heavily regulated pesticide use is.
Wu’s final lunge against aerial application is to hoist up the EU for banning the practice. Actually, the EU is an outlier. Aerial application is used throughout the globe — in Brazil, Canada, Australia, China, South Africa, New Zealand, and numerous other countries. It is a form of application that has been vital to crop, forestry and human health protection for over 100 years because of its effectiveness2, and because it evolves technologically. Wu was informed about this. Unfortunately he took a deceptive approach — one that harms his profession’s reputation, not that of the professionals who are aerial applicators.
Andrew Moore has been the chief executive officer of the National Agricultural Aviation Assocation since 2002.
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