Aerial seeding beneficial for crops

WEST POINT—An airplane flying near one’s home can be alarming, but in some parts of the state, planes are a tool that allow farmers to efficiently seed fields and treat weeds and pests.

"I think people in the community like to see green fields, but when they see an airplane near tree lines or their home and hear the roar of an engine, that can cause apprehension," said Hunter Richardson, a King and Queen County cattle, crop and timber producer.

Pilot Matt Crabbe, who owns Crabbe Aviation, has been performing aerial application of seed and other products for more than 20 years. He said pilots can treat three times the amount of land in one day that a farmer can on the ground.

"It’s a time-sensitive business," Crabbe said. "Farmers need to get crops in the ground quickly, so when a farmer calls I come as quickly as possible."

Richardson, who uses Crabbe Aviation’s services, said aerial application provides a solution for planting cover crops or getting rid of pests without damaging an already-planted cash crop.

"In August when soybeans are lush, green and tall, an airplane can move across a field and seed without touching the crops, eliminating any damage that could be done to the plants. The soybeans are still growing while the cover crop starts to grow beneath it," he said.

Cover crops are grains and legumes that are planted behind a cash crop, said Tony Banks, a commodity marketing specialist for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. Cover crops protect the soil from erosion, promote nutrient management and improve the condition of the soil. Cereal rye and crimson clover are two types of cover crops, both typical on Virginia’s Eastern Shore.

"Establishing a cover crop before cold weather improves that crop’s ability to control erosion, conserve and improve soils and protect water quality during the winter and into spring," Banks said.

Crabbe said he and other pilots who service farms receive training updates each year. Each state has a program that pilots must attend to receive their state and federal recertification.

"These programs focus on reducing spray drift, new application technologies and the main goal of safety inside and outside of the cockpit," he said.

"Today’s aerial application equipment is very sophisticated with flow controls, GPS systems equipped with weather radar, variable rate technologies and nozzle selections for individual field applications. We’re into precision application."

Crabbe leaves buffer strips when applying around sensitive areas. He also tries to avoid flying in certain areas at times when he knows people will be home.

"If you see us out, we’re not joyriding; we’re providing a service for agriculture producers and our country."

Contact Richardson at 804-695-4885 or Banks at 804-290-1114.

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