Increased Uses For the Airplane in Agriculture

Increased Uses For the Airplane in Agriculture


The use of the airplane for applying various spras, granular or dust materials (predominantly insecticides) is now a common practice among Ontario’s flue-cured tobacco growers. Although the cost of application is often slightly higher than with ground equipment the airplane has been able to compete quite successfully. Possibly this is at least partially due to with which the job can be done as well as the prompt service. In addition, a surprisingly uniform and complete coverage of material can be obtained.

The application of materials from the air is a fairly recent development in tobacco production. Shortly after World War II a few tests were made but it wasn’t until 1948 that any appreciable acreage of tobacco was treated with material applied by airplane. That year there were two companies with a total of five airplanes in use. In 1955, the same two companies were operating a total of 18 airplanes. Now, there are at least five different companies with an overall total of about 30 airplanes available for use in the tobacco areas of Ontario.

Carrying Capacity

The carrying capacity of the airplanes now being used is more than double that of those that were used in 1948. This has greatly increased the efficiency and speed of applying materials from the air. One company estimates that, on the average, one of their airplanes can treat 30 acres for the control of hornworms in 45 minutes. However, most of the applications must be confined to the early morning or evening when the air is calm.

The airplane was first used to apply insecticides for the control of hornworms and this has continued to be the largest single job. (Tomato and Tobacco hornworms attack just before or during early harvest and can inflict heavy damage unless promptly controlled.)

It has been estimated that 70,000 acres of the 1961 flue-cured tobacco crop were treated by airplane for hornworm control. This is almost 60 per cent of the total acreage grown in 1961.

Ground equipment is also receiving competition in a number of other jobs. For instance, there has been some application of insecticides in granular or spray form for the control of cutworms before planting, Nitrogen, in a granular form has been applied to the rye crop grown in rotation with tobacco. Foliar fertilizers, although of doubtful benefit, have been applied to tobacco from the air.

Control of Frost

Some success has been obtained in the control of frost. This process involves flying back and forth in the warm air over the area to be protected and forcing this air down toward the ground. Usually only a small area can be protected because of the limited time available when a frost is occurring.

One might have the impression that airplanes can only operate effectively and safely over large, open fields but very seldom, if ever, is a grower refused treatment of a field because of tis size of the surrounding obstructions.

Before any crop is treated the farm is visited and a map made to show the fields to be treated, as well as any obstructions such as hydro or telephone wires. A great deal depends on the skill and experience of the pilot. Any misjudgement or carelessness can easily result in an accident. Local pilots are often preferred since they are usually accustomed to handling an airplane in confined areas.

In the future, tobacco growers are likely to make increasing use of the airplane, provided the companies and their pilots continue to supply the reliable and prompt service that they have in the past.

By M.C. Watson, Extension Specialist,
Experimental Farm, Delhi

Agricultural methods have changed vastly in civilized countries over the years, and still finer methods are being sought. Today, the airplane is gradually finding its place in many phases of agriculture.

Perhaps I regard the plane’s usefulness from two points of view--that of a pilot and that of a farmer, which I am primarily. In 1945, I learned to fly in Hamilton and received further training in St. Catharines. I purchased my own plane for additional experience and pleasure in 1949, but have since sold it. My commercial licence was granted in 1952 and soon after, I began part-time instruction duties at the St. Catharines Flying Club. Today, airplane services are obtainable for farmers on a custom basis.

As a farmer, I worried with others when frost threatened grapes in the spring, and I also begrudged the time spent spraying grapes--row after row. For frost prevention, I know that up 100 feet temperatures were considerably higher than at wire-level. If warm air could be brought down, our difficulties.

Experimentation along this line began in 1956. The answer now seems to be low-flying over vineyards just before and after dawn. Planes set up currents which mix air, causing a rise of several degrees within minutes. Each year, more planes stand ready on frost-threatened nights, attesting their value.

Since 1957, we have known it is possible to fertilize pasture and wheat land immediately preceding growth, regardless of soil conditions. This definitely saves time. Similarly grass seeding is possible and successful.

One unusual use of the plan is the pollination of pear blossoms. Some varieties must be cross-pollinated for fruit production. Pollen from trees in Washington is frozen and air-transported to our district.

Formerly prime blossoms were hand-painted--slow at best; or hives were supplied with pollen so the bees might carry it where required--a haphazard arrangement. Now, two ounces of pollen per acre, mixed 2-2 with filler can be applied by low-flying planes when whole orchards are at peak blossoming conditions. A fully effective piece of work is accomplished with minimum labour.

Demand Increases

In 1957, experimental work was begun with the spraying and dusting of insecticides and fungicides on grape areas. By 1961, over 7000 acres of grapes had been sprayed by plane in the peninsula and the demand continued to rise. Anything sprayable from the ground, can be sprayed from the air if accessible. This includes in agriculture--grapes, peaches, tomatoes, potatoes, tobacco, cotton, and mosquito-infested areas.

What are the advantages of air application?

  1. No mechanical damage to vines.
  2. Rapid coverage, so better timing of application.
  3. No packing down of cultivated soil.
  4. Application regardless of soil condition.

The use of planes in agriculture in many countries including Australia and the Scandinavians is gratefully accepted. As our Canadian farmers familiarize themselves with the plane’s potential, its uses will multiply. So far, there is little or no encouragement from governmental agencies despite the fact that increased use is gratifying, proves its effectiveness, and practicability is being felt.

By Charles Vaughn,
St. Catharines


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