Mapping now important piece in spray plane technology

Farm Forum

As cold and wet conditions continue to stress farmers, some are turning to airplanes to take care of business. Advances in technology result in huge improvements in using spray planes to apply ag products to farmer’s fields.

Expanding into South Dakota this spring, Jarrod Lindemann of North Valley Aircraft in Valley City, N.D., said that by taking over Hilltop Aerial of Clark, those customers will benefit through the use of technology, utilizing a new computer system used throughout the business. With this efficiency, the eyes of producers are opened to this expertise, Lindemann said.

“We map everything that we can map,” Lindemann said. “We use maps to dispatch orders out to the plane. Once we start on a field we email and use cell phones to tell producers we have started on their fields. Then dispatch sends a text message to the producer when the field is completed. That way we can document the whole work order, show the flight path and show that the plane was over their field. The producer can see with their own eyes that leaves no gray areas. When the producer is working in another field, there is no worry as to whether the field really got completed.”

What drones will be doing a few years down the road in the world of agriculture, aircraft are doing now. With the ability to take a picture on demand, a determination can be made of what needs to be taken care of in farmer’s fields.

That’s part of the technology that customers in the Clark area will be able to utilize with the recent change in ownership. Doug Hansen, owner of Hilltop Aerial, a crop spraying business in Clark, sold his business to Jarrod and Paul Lindemann, knowing that the sale would provide expanded services. The Clark business will retain the name, and Doug will stay on as manager.

By adding the Clark business, the capabilities of the company are expanded. With 125 nautical miles between the two locations, one part may be getting rain, while the other may not. The workload can be balanced between the locations. Resources will be used when needed. It takes 30 to 45 minutes to fly from one location to the other, so it’s not a big deal to move back and forth.

“Doug had a great business. It fits real well with the services we offer and takes our company to the next level,” Lindemann said. “Doug wants to slow down some as he also farms. He’s excited about the technology we can provide, and he will stay on to manage the Clark location. We’ll also keep his staff and possibly add more.”

In the race to get seeds in the ground, the biggest challenge for farming is the weather, Lindemann said. Everything a farmer does correlates to getting the work done, done extremely fast and efficiently, despite the potential for wind and rain.

Lindemann said, “When farmers decide to call in a spray plane, it generally needs to be done fast, due to current weather conditions.”

“By the time farmers come to us, the job needed to be done yesterday,” Lindemann said. “We have a good clientele that we work with every year. We’re there to help them out. There is some work that is strictly airplane work, such as applying wheat fungicides. There are times you can’t use a ground rig, such as when corn is tasseling.”

Aircraft are extremely efficient and fast. A lot of ground can be covered in a matter of minutes, according to Lindemann. Any time ground rigs go into a field, some of the crop is knocked down, so farmers are losing yield. Compaction of the soil occurs every time vehicles drive through the field. Plants have a hard time growing where wheel tracks are located. That doesn’t happen with an airplane.

The North Valley aircraft are set up differently from the ones that have been used at Hilltop. The updated technology allows for the use of variable rate technology for spraying and applying fertilizer. The camera system brings multiple advantages into the software used by the company. It can show the stress levels of plants, weed locations and the overall health of the field. The North Valley agronomists review the pictures rather than actually walking the fields to determine what products need to be applied.

“In our system, from those images, our team can determine what should be done (as far as applications) in the field,” Lindemann said. “We can map an area using a variable rate. That way chemicals are only applied where they need to go. In return, that saves farmers thousands of dollars. And as far as a footprint, it’s more efficient for the farm and community. Chemicals are all on the field, not in the water, so there is no extra runoff which has been a problem with the past.”

The workhorses of the business are the Turbo Thrush spray planes. A turbine powered Air Tractor is also used to cover the fields. The majority of the fleet is turbo powered to handle the workload and to provide speed and efficiency.

The products that are applied with an airplane are similar to a ground sprayer. Zones can be created and prospective maps analyzed by the full agronomy department.

The North Valley aircraft offers the ability to spray in a completely different way from the Hilltop company. North Valley’s aircraft make use of an electrostatic system in which electrically charged spray droplets are broken up into positive and negatives ions which are attracted to the plants, providing better coverage to stem and plant leaves. This was incorporated into the North Valley system five years ago to apply fertilizers, micronutrients, fungicides and insecticides.

“This method is far superior when applying fungicides when tested against ground rigs,” Lindemann said. “It allows us to get more done in a more efficient manner, using less fuel, and doing better work.”

North Valley and Hilltop will have 20 to 25 employees this season, which includes the pilots, tech people, managers, loaders and secretaries. Lindemann said combining the businesses will bring more jobs into the area.

This expansion will be the first time that North Valley has operated in South Dakota. They have a full staff and aircraft stationed at each location. It will continue as two separate businesses but will be run together.

“Air is fast and can cover a lot of ground, especially when wet,” Lindemann said. For what needs to get done, rates are reasonable.”

As far as this season, “It always seems that we get through it the best way we can. Everything always works out, there are some bad years, but you take the good with the bad.”

North Valley Aircraft is located at the Barnes County Municipal Airport at Valley City. For information call 701-845-2100, fax 701-845-2103 or visit The Hilltop Aerial main office is in Clark with locations at Madison and Webster. For information call 605-532-3462.