Farming technology takes to the air

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Back when I was just a little feller, my dad would take some of us up to the brand new Noble County Airport for a “fly-in” that was sponsored each year by the Noble Soil and Water District. Our county was one of the beneficiaries of former Gov. Rhodes’ effort to build an air strip in every county in Ohio, and we were lucky to have a handful of local pilots who utilized this new facility.

So every fall, these local pilots would volunteer their planes and their time to take local citizens up to tour the county, with the focus on current conservation practices. The most visible practice was the contour strips of crops that local farmers had planted under the supervision of the old ASC office.

For an area with as many slopes as Noble County, seeing the strips from above was a sight to behold. That was when I fell in love with flying.

Present day

Now, fast forward 40 years or so. In 2012 we revived that old tradition, and organized an air tour once again. We had a few kinks, but still managed to fly almost a hundred people that day. This year we offered it again, and more than 75 people took advantage.

The focus has changed over the years to the fast moving oil and gas industry. With a fractionation plant, and all of the supporting pipelines under construction, it is the perfect way to see how all of these crooked pipelines actually run.

If you haven’t been up in a small plane lately to see what’s going on, you’ll be amazed. And if you’re looking for someone to take you up, contact the folks at Pier Aviation, from the Jefferson County Airpark. They were kind enough to come and help us out this year, and they offer this service anytime.

Now, how many of you have heard of an Air Tractor? I’m sure by now you all are familiar with cover crops and their many benefits to the soil. And many of you have heard about the cover crop program recently sponsored by the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District to help keep sediments from leaving farm fields and ending up in their lakes. But did you know a lot of the acres were planted with an Air Tractor?

Actually, Air Tractor is the name of the company that builds the planes that are used for aerial application of seeds, fertilizers and herbicides.

These particular tractors — er, planes — were from Fisher Ag Service, from Mount Gilead, Ohio, and, man could those guys fly. I got to help — or at least watch — as the planes were loaded at the Cambridge Airport, bound for farm fields in Guernsey, Noble and Muskingum counties. These planes were very impressive for someone who’d never seen it before.

They used three planes, and it kept the ground crew hopping to make sure they were ready to re-load as each plane returned.

Size

The planes were each a different size, with the biggest being an Air Tractor 802. It’s capacity was right at 5000 pounds of seed — enough to fly on about 100 acres on each flight. On the one farm that we got to see them apply, they covered his 96 acres of soybeans in about 30 minutes.

They flew on about 900 acres before lunch, and then went on to Carroll County for the afternoon. Altogether, Fisher thinks they have flown on about 25,000 acres this fall.

Purchase price

Just in case you were thinking of buying one, this 802 is a 1340 horsepower turbo-prop that burns about 90 gallons of fuel and hour. I have no idea what the plane actually costs, but if you can afford the fuel, then maybe you can afford the plane, too.

If you’d like to see some of this action, Wayne SWCD has a video on Youtube that includes a camera in the cockpit. You can find it at www.wayneswcd.org, under the “News and Events” button.

The last part of my story happened at this year’s Farm Science Review, where my son and I got to see a demonstration on drones scouting crop fields. These little things could be programmed to fly over anything with a live video feed back to your computer, enabling you to see anything from pest issues to drainage problems that may show up after planting. And, it’s small enough to fit on your desk.

Maybe?

My question was, could I use it check cows, come calving time? But I think we are just a bit too hilly for it to safely come back home each time. Maybe someday …

About the Author

Jim Mizik has been the district technician for the Noble Soil and Water Conservation District since 1999. He also raises beef cattle with his son, Jeremy, on his family farm. More Stories by Jim Mizik

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