Bad year for rust, good year for the aerial applicators

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Bad year for rust, good year for the aerial applicators

An invasion of a new strain of stripe rust that affected top varieties believed to be resistant to rust presents a challenge that likely has knocked off some of the yield potential of the best crop in several years.

But for one segment of the ag industry, the rust invasion — along with a bumper crop of insects as the result of the unusually mild winter — has meant good business.

Aerial applicators hit boom times in the central corridor of Kansas in late March and early April, as farmers faced a tight window to get on a fungicide application in time to avoid costly damage to what appeared to be a bumper crop.

Key Points

• Year of bugs and disease challenges producers.

• Conditions provide an opportunity for aerial applicators.

• Demand hit earlier than expected this year and is likely to continue.

For Bob Clancy, an employee of Rice County Aerial Sprayers at Lyons, it meant virtually nonstop loading of chemicals, and an incredible amount of fuel pumped.

Bill Hoeffner, who owns the Rice County operation, says the flurry of activity took ag applicators somewhat by surprise. First, it was alfalfa weevils, then rust in the wheat fields, he says.

Everything came early

“We are pretty much gearing up for the big rush around the last week of April to the middle or maybe third week of May,” he says. “Everything came early and it hit hard and fast. We had to do some scrambling to get everything in place.”

Spencer Maxwell, 23, a pilot at Lyons, is one of three pilots based there. The others are Tracy Hillegeist, who lives at Beverly and Hoeffner, who also has a hangar, loading equipment and fuel services at Moundridge.

Maxwell says he was a teenage high school student in Sterling when an ag plane captured his attention as it swooped across a road.

“I thought that looked like something I wanted to do. I Googled it, found a school and went for training, and then came back here to get a job,” Maxwell says. “I’ve been here three years, and this is the busiest year I’ve seen.” Applicators moved from insecticides for weevils to fungicides for rust almost without a break, Maxwell says.

“It’s been an exceptional year for us,” he says, “And we needed it. The drought of the last two years made those pretty poor years, so it’s good to have a really busy year.

Maxwell says the flurry of activity died down as the wheat matured past the label date for fungicide application, but planes have still been busy helping farmers fight insects and the bumper crop of weeds that emerged with the spring rains.

Hoeffner says pasture spraying is also in demand, as ranchers fight musk thistle in the early spring and noxious weeds in the summer and fall. “You can’t do ground spraying in pastures; they are too rough,” he says.

He says later in the summer, the calls will be to spray for corn, milo and soybeans for earworms or head worms.

“This year, I think we’ll see a lot of grasshopper problems and ticks in the pastures,” he says. “It’s likely to keep us busy.”

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SPRAYING TEAM: Bob Clancy (left) said the height of spraying season this year meant nonstop loading and fuel pumping for him. Pilots Spencer Maxwell (center) and Tracy Hillegeist are based at Lyons. They said they call for help from other pilots when they get overwhelmed with calls, and reciprocate by going north to lend a hand when those areas need extra help.

This article published in the June, 2012 edition of KANSAS FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2012.

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