WAKARUSA, Ind. — There’s no question about it — technology has changed and impacted the world of agriculture dramatically.

This is especially true in the area of crop dusting, where changes have made the industry more precise and safe.

Technology has evolved from hand-drawn maps of fields that need to be sprayed to detailed satellite imagery. The Eby family, founders and owners of Agriflite Services Inc., have seen this change firsthand.

“Technology has grown so much, even in the last five years,” said Denise Eby, office manager and co-founder of Agriflite. “When we first started, we thought we were really advanced because we had three part order forms with carbonless paper. Mapping was done by hand until we started getting satellite maps.”

Eby said that they began seeing satellite imagery in the late ‘90s, but the images were darker and more difficult to read. Tools such as Google Earth have changed the maps to be more detailed and easier to use.

“Now, we’ve eliminated a lot of additional time on the phone, asking farmers questions,” Eby said. “They know when we’re going in, and we know the land.”

David Eby, co-founder and pilot at Agriflite, noted crop dusting traditionally is portrayed as a dangerous, daredevil-type job. However, he explained that the industry is safer than ever.

“When we spray fields, we don’t just jump in airplanes and spray in any kind of weather,” he said. “There’s a lot of planning with each application job. One thing we do is we inspect the fields we’re going to spray. Are there bees around? Are there organic crops?”

“We try to access every resource and information that we have to make the application safe, as well as the people around it.”

Eby said that they use a satellite picture of each field they are going to spray, so they can see where the house and other landmarks are located.

“We know where the house is at, so if the wind is blowing toward the house, we just won’t go there that time,” he said. “We wait until the weather conditions are right. We’re trying to take all the unnecessary risk away so aerial applications are safe.

“And that’s my personal, primary goal — to protect the public from any risk and make aerial applications safe as possible.”

Eby mentioned that crop dusting businesses use the safest chemicals available, so nothing hazardous to the environment or people is sprayed.

“The environment is important to me personally,” he said. “Even though people think crop dusters don’t really care, we have to leave this for our next generation in better shape than we found it.”

Another trend that has impacted the agricultural aircraft industry is fungicide applications. Eby said that fungicides are the most common type of spray that customers want on their fields

“Fungicides started back in 2007, designed primarily to make the plant healthier, which it does,” he said. “And it has grown significantly from that time period. There’s several products available that we can put on.

“The material is pretty safe. It does the same thing it does for humans that use an antifungal. You apply fungicides on corn and soybeans, and it makes them healthier, which results in a healthier product.”

Eby predicted that drones, self-flying aircraft that could apply sprays, will be in the picture in five to 10 years. He said that the technology for drones is available now, but they aren’t used in agriculture due to safety issues.

“What happens if someone is out in the field and the computer can’t recognize it, can’t avoid that person?” he asked. “There are safety issues involved in that, but I’m sure in the future it’ll be something we’ll need to look at.”

Eby and his family enjoy using technology to make their business as efficient as possible.

“Technology has played a huge role so far,” he said. “And I think a lot of issues can be solved if we just apply the technology that we have available.”