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
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
“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
“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
“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