By Kayla Uhles
Kayla Uhles is a student at Southeast Missouri State University where she is studying agribusiness and communications. She credits her small town Missouri way of life and Future Farmers of America (FFA) experiences for growing a passion for the future of agriculture. Kayla currently lives on her family farm where she trains quarter horses and gives horseback riding lessons. After graduation, Kayla hopes to use her personal experiences to educate others about Missouri and American agriculture. She was a 2015 recipient of the Grow Ag Leaders Scholarship.
My heart grew up on my grandfather’s row crop operation in southeast Missouri. It was a typical summer afternoon if I saddled my paint horse and took off down the field road to see what was happening on the farm. As a young girl, I was just enjoying the ride, but now as a college student I’ve decided to take the reins. My home, southeast Missouri, is a major agriculture center that helps supply food to people all over the world. However, our state and the rest of the agriculture industry must be constantly looking for new and better ways to produce more with less. By 2050, it is estimated that we will have to feed nine billion people. Who knew that one of our best answers could literally be “answers from above?”
Remember that paint horse I mentioned? He is scared of airplanes. I have been spun, bucked, and jolted just about every time one flies over. However, I can’t really blame my horse because these just aren’t any planes. A mile down the road from my house is an aerial applicator business, which has replaced the older method once known as “crop dusting.” Their job is to precisely apply pesticides, fungicides, insecticides, and fertilizers on row crops in our area. These small planes can accurately reach and maintain speeds of up to one hundred and forty miles an hour as they navigate down across the crops.
Aerial application has been around since the 1920s, but agricultural engineers are stretching its potential as the customer demand for this effective application continues to grow. Airplanes, now equipped with GPS technology, can reach crops with the precision of a tractor but without driving over the crop. Their speed allows them to cover large amounts of acreage in a single day, going where other machines cannot. Following rainy weather, airplanes can treat crops when it would simply be too muddy for a tractor. Their quick action and ability to reach remote areas saves both time and money! All of these factors contribute to better harvests, which means fewer acres have to be farmed to produce the same amount. It also allows for less suitable land to be used for horseback riding and wildlife habitats.
Additionally, concerns about the contamination of our drinking water and destruction of animal habitat can be addressed with aerial application. Aerial application is actually a great way to reduce both of these problems. It does not contribute to topsoil runoff because products are sprayed directly onto the plants without machinery disturbing the topsoil. This helps eliminate runoff so products do not end up where they were not intended to be. Products registered for aerial use must meet rigorous safety standards overseen by organizations such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), spending years in scientific review, followed by label enforcement and applicator education and certification to ensure that we practice responsible agriculture.
What’s in store for the future? Aerial application technology has also contributed to benefits in fighting forest fires, mosquito control, and snow removal among other things. Drones are even being tested that could potentially take the place of piloted planes. However, with new advancements come new questions. As an agricultural student and Southeast Missouri resident, I believe it’s my responsibility to teach others about our industry. You don’t have to be an expert, but you do have to be willing to AGvocate for what you believe in. An AGvocate is a person who positively promotes aspects of agriculture. It is as simple as telling your story. Give those unfamiliar with agriculture an inside look even if your story is a goofy paint horse scared of “answers from above!”