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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Crop dusters fly in the face of rumors

Monday, May 19, 2008

So many rumors were flying around the Putnam County Airport last week you'd have thought we were all living in Area 51.

But rest assured: No airplanes clipped treetops, slammed into farm fields or buzzed local homes for two hours. And absolutely no alien or Al Qaeda aircraft crash-landed in the vicinity.

So what was all the hubbub? Just the unusual sight of crop dusters spraying winter wheat fields east of the Putnam County Airport. That local oddity apparently spawned several calls to the airport and the Sheriff's Department on Tuesday, airport officials explained.

The truth is: Planes from Bi-State Helicopters, Covington, are in the process of spraying 350,000 acres of winter wheat in central Indiana and eastern Illinois to help curtail wheat rust. And the Putnam County Airport was the ideal location for them to use as home base this week.

Owner Bill Rice and pilot Steve Schaler dispelled the treetop rumors and more, explaining that Schaler typically flies 8-12 feet above a field in order to properly apply the fungicide to the crop below. Otherwise his yellow 1978 Air Tractor is cruising along at little more than 200 feet en route to its next destination.

Rice and Schaler chalk up the complaints to "fear of the unknown," compounded by the current climate of uncertainty that they partially blame on the media.

"Most of the calls and complaints are usually irrational and emotionally driven," Rice said, speaking from a lifetime of experience in (and above) the field.

That was not unlike the situation Schaler found himself in near Stilesville Tuesday. He looked down to see a woman frantically running toward him, waving her arms hysterically. Turns out her dog was roaming around the wheat field and she was freaking out that he was going to be sprayed and turned into Cujo.

"I could have made a half-dozen passes right over that dog and he'd have never known any different," the pilot said, alluding to the apparent safety of the chemical he sprays.

"We're immersed in it daily," he said, "and we're all fine."

That comment drew laughs and a couple of unprintable punchlines from ground crew members Rick Glover and Jeff Thomas, but Schaler was serious about the spray. It carries only a "caution" warning, far from a "danger" label with the obligatory skull and crossbones.

Rice's team will return to spray about 20,000 acres of corn in the area in late June or early July. The crop dusting has a valuable return for the farmer, he said, citing a 12-15 percent increase per bushel. Last year he typically saw a 25-bushel-per-acre crop increase, which translates into a dramatic boost to the farmer's wallet.

"We're making food," Rice said, expounding on how the crop production increase impacts corn-fed cattle and on down the farm food chain.

Rice has been involved in the crop-dusting business since 1974 and owned his own planes since 1981. "It's not a new business," he stressed, "you're just seeing a lot more of it right now."

Their efforts are not only good for farm production, but also for the Putnam County Airport, said Art Evans, who owns Dixie Chopper Air that operates the local facility.

"These are businessmen making a business decision to utilize the Putnam County Airport to help increase crop production locally. And in doing so, they're using 5,000 or 6,000 gallons of fuel (purchased from the airport).

"Ain't it nice that we've got an airport like this so they can do a job like this," Evans continued.

"So remember, it's not some kid who just got his pilot's license out buzzing your house," Evans added in alluding to the rumors. "It's a professional pilot out flying low over the countryside, doing his job, making things better for all of us in the long run."

Eric Bernsee contributed this story.

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What about us folks with older livestock? What are they spraying on the corn anyway? Will it hurt our trees and other plants? Do they spray broadleaf killer, or just something for fungus? Trees are broadleaf and so are most other plants. Those planes skim across the trees out here and it scares the daylights out of our stock! (chickens, horse and other outdoor pets) We are not notified when this is going to happen, so we can't put them in the barn in advance. Once they start spraying, it's too late because everything is freaking out. Who gets to pay for the vet bills when something breaks a leg? Not the farmers I'll bet.

-- Posted by Another Michelle on Mon, May 19, 2008, at 11:17 AM

Who can we call to find out more about this? It might help if there was a way to be better informed. The Banner story covered the stuff they spray on the wheat as a fungicide. But what about the stuff they spray on the corn? What's that? Just because some people don't mind taking a bath in the stuff doesn't mean we all want to! What about people with asthma, emphysema, allergies or other resperatory problems? This stuff is drifting around in the air!!

ALSO I do not appreciate the article's laughing attitude about the poor lady who was concerned for the safety of her pet. What if it was your kid or dog out there and you didn't know what they were spraying? Maybe pesticides or something equally as bad! The farmers/crop dusters should be made to send out post cards or put a notice in the Banner (on a Monday)letting people know when they are going to be doing this so that they can keep their kids and pets inside that day. It would stop panicked phone calles and would just be a common courtesy to good people and THAT is not a laughing matter. Shame on you Eric Bernsee.

-- Posted by Another Michelle on Mon, May 19, 2008, at 11:27 AM

I've got a laugh about this one. Quote "We're all fine". Yes my response has alittle emotion in it, as I had a run in with a crop duster while scouting my own crops last year. Why is there so much sickness and disease in the world? Maybe it's from a really low quality crop that is being produced? Remember, a fungicide kills alot more things than just the one you're shooting for. So yes, in my opinion we should be concerned. You see alot of this in todays time.... treat the symptom, ignore the cause.

-- Posted by silverfox on Mon, May 19, 2008, at 2:15 PM

Give me a seat on the front row for this one.....

-- Posted by localman on Mon, May 19, 2008, at 8:42 PM

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