Rice planting has begun in south Louisiana, but many farmers in the central and northern parts of the state are looking for options because they've been delayed by persistent rains and wet field conditions.
That's where the state's aerial applicators — pilots with specially equipped aircraft — come in.
“Aerial applicators provide a valuable service to farmers, especially during wet weather and when plants reach maturity, grow tall and become subject to damage by field equipment and develop pest problems,” said LSU AgCenter engineer Daniel Martin, who conducts “clinics” across Louisiana to help applicators keep their equipment in top condition.
The aerial applicators' services are particularly important in the production of plant commodities — a segment of the state's agricultural industries that meant nearly $5.6 billion to the state's economy last year.
“Most farmers growing plant commodities depend upon aerial applicators at some time to help plant the commodity or keep pests under control,” Martin stressed.
And many of the state's aerial applicators take advantage of LSU AgCenter services that help them check the equipment they use for those tasks.
The LSU AgCenter's Aerial Applicator Pattern Testing Clinics provide opportunities for AgCenter experts to demonstrate the importance of adjusting the equipment so the recommended quantities of pesticides, seeds or fertilizers are uniformly distributed over a farmer's field. Proper adjustments also help to minimize the environmental effects, since materials are applied only where they are needed and in the proper amounts.
These clinics are conducted across the state each year at such locations as Estherwood, Natchitoches, Bunkie, Rayville, Winnsboro, Deer Park and Ville Platte. Some are conducted at public airports, which allows various applicators from the area to fly in and go through the testing, while others are conducted on individual applicators' private air strips.
At the clinics, applicators have an opportunity to test their patterns for both wet and dry applications. The cost for each test is $50 per plane at the clinic or $250 a day at the facilities of the aerial applicator.
For wet applications, pilots make repeated low-level flights over a cotton string and spray a mixture of dye and water. The dye mixture accumulates on the cotton string and can be read with a fluorometer. The results are computer analyzed, and a graph is printed illustrating the spray distribution. For dry operations, pilots make one pass over square canvas funnels applying granular materials. The material drops through the inverted, cone-shaped bags and into a test tube. Then material in each test tube is weighed, and a distribution graph is developed.
“Adjustments can be made on equipment and flights repeated until a uniform pattern is achieved,” said Martin. “Doing so, applicators help farmers to operate in a more efficient and environmental friendly way.”
Martin uses the information on the graphs to help pilots make the proper adjustments on the spray equipment and to achieve a uniform pattern of application. “Uniform application patterns help farmers obtain a better distribution of plants throughout the field, assure plants are equally fertilized and help control pests better,” Martin explains.
In another aspect of the clinics, applicators are able to witness the impact that wind, droplet size and height have on the drift of pesticides.
For more information or a schedule of the Aerial Applicator Pattern Testing Clinics, contact Daniel Martin at 225-578-2229 or [email protected]  — or call a local LSU AgCenter Extension office.
John Chaney writes for the LSU AgCenter. (318-473-6605 or [email protected] ).