Top Crop Manager

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Fungicide application by helicopter is on the rise

Aerial application is becoming more prevalent in Ontario, which is not surprising given the flexibility and benefits it offers growers. Aerial application in Ontario is much different than in Western Canada, where it has been a commonly used spray method for years. Airplanes are widely used on the Prairies, where they can spray large tracts of land with few barriers and a low potential for spray drift. But in Ontario, helicopters lead the pack for aerial application.


December 17, 2009
By Top Crop Manager

Topics
18  
 Helicopters account for the majority of aerial applications in Eastern Canada where field size and other impediments such as trees and hydro lines require agile and precise application. Photo courtesy of BASF.


 

Aerial application is becoming more prevalent in Ontario, which is not surprising given the flexibility and benefits it offers growers. Aerial application in Ontario is much different than in Western Canada, where it has been a commonly used spray method for years. Airplanes are widely used on the Prairies, where they can spray large tracts of land with few barriers and a low potential for spray drift. But in Ontario, helicopters lead the pack for aerial application.
They can treat more fields on an hourly basis, fly closer to the fields and do not have to travel back and forth to an airport for product or refuelling. Helicopters are also able to fly slower than a plane, 60 mph (100 km/h) compared to 120 mph (200 km/h), allowing them to get closer to obstacles because they do not have to pull up as soon. And in Ontario, where field sizes are smaller and other impediments such as tree lines, buildings, hydro lines and radio towers surround farmland, agility is paramount.

For Paul Zimmer, president of Zimmer Air Services in Blenheim, Ontario, there has been a definite increase in the amount of aerial application over the past few years. “In the late 1970s and early 1980s, we devoted three to four machines to agricultural applications, but the amount of work slowly decreased as products were replaced with ones that weren’t being registered by the PMRA (Pest Management Regulatory Agency) for aerial application,” explains Zimmer. “Now we’re seeing crop protection companies developing more products registered for aerial application, giving us the opportunity to get back into the market and giving growers another application option.”

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The benefits of aerial application
For certain products, aerial application offers a distinct benefit over ground application. “We spray mostly fungicides, insecticides and some fall desiccants,” says Zimmer. “We can get to a field in a timely manner and cover large areas in a very short period of time, which is critical when dealing with disease and insect control. We’re not limited by wet soil conditions and you don’t have to worry about damage or losses from tracking or compaction. In addition, because we’re not actually in the field, we don’t spread fungal spores from one field to another.”

According to Dr. Trevor Kraus, supervisor of research and commercial development and technical development for Eastern Canada with BASF Canada, these are just some of the many reasons the company included aerial application on its Headline fungicide label. “We have certainly seen an increase in the aerial application over the last few years, and it’s been very advantageous for growers. In particular, as more corn growers protect their crops against disease with Headline fungicide, aerial application is a great option because the fungicide needs to be applied when the crop is at tassel, which is when it is fairly tall.”

For Kris Martin of Martin Farming in Brant County, 2009 was his first experience with aerial application, and for him, seeing was believing. “I had two farms with IP (identify preserved) soybeans that were heavily damaged by hail in early August, and I wanted to get Headline applied to ward off any disease,” he explains. “My Cargill representative recommended aerial application as an option, and given how nice the crop looked, I hated to go in and trample it with a ground sprayer. I was impressed to see how close the helicopter pilot got to the crop when he was applying; he didn’t have his boom any higher than a typical Ro Gator would and he was very precise.”

18aTraining is a priority
To ensure efficacious application, pilots are trained to understand the specific product labels so that all applications are made in accordance with the label directions, including water volume, product rate, droplet size and height above the crop. For example, BASF recommends that Headline fungicide be applied at a 10-foot release height and sprayed when the wind speed is less than 15 mph (24 km/h). According to Kraus, these recommendations are based on research done by BASF to determine which height and wind speed will provide optimal coverage.

Safety is also critical. Zimmer Air, for example, has its own training facility and provides in-house training for all its applicators. There are many requirements aerial applicators must meet to be licensed to spray crops. “For growers looking to hire an aerial applicator for the first time, it’s also a good idea to verify the applicator’s credentials,” suggests Zimmer. “By law, applicators need to have a Transport Canada Operating Certificate. If you hire someone without this and there is a problem with the job, their insurance will be null and void because they’re operating illegally. Growers should also inquire about the pilot’s experience level to ensure the individual is properly trained for agricultural applications.”

Aerial application is not always possible, and there are a number of products that are not registered for aerial application and a number of areas where applicators cannot fly. However, it does provide an excellent alternative to ground application, particularly if there are spraying constraints due to timing or weather conditions.