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What Does a Crop Duster Do?

By Lori Kilchermann
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A crop duster is a person who applies pesticides on farm fields and trees in order to fight infestation of insects that can cause damage to the plants, trees or produce. Commonly applied by airplane or helicopter in the later stages of the plant's development, many times, a crop duster will use ground equipment to apply the pesticides early in the growing season. Often labeled daredevils, the crop dusters commonly fly very close to the ground while applying the loads of pesticides. It is not uncommon for these low-flying farmer's helpers to travel in groups across a wide region, applying pesticides on several different types of crops in a single season.

When a crop duster takes to the skies, she does so in a purpose-built aircraft. The airplane used for crop dusting is capable of semi-slow flight, as well as exact maneuvering capabilities all while carrying a load of dry or liquid pesticide. Often, former military and commercial pilots become crop dusters, and they must fly extremely close to the crops to avoid the wind carrying the pesticides away from the intended target. The concentration required by the crop duster pilot is critical since he is commonly flying by sight and instinct.

While the crop duster is commonly thought of as an airplane pilot, many dusters choose to use a light helicopter to apply the spray. The use of the helicopter allows the pilot to avoid wide sweeps and turns due to the ability of the helicopter to turn incredibly sharp. Unlike the airplane that must fly from location to location, the helicopter is frequently loaded onto the back of a truck to be transported to the fields. When transported by truck, the long spray arms on the helicopter are typically folded back along the sides of the aircraft during transport.

Both dry and liquid pesticide is applied by a crop duster. The type of chemical sprayed is often dictated by not only the time of year the crop is being sprayed, but also the type of crop and the desired effect of the spray. Some chemicals are applied by a crop duster to work immediately while others are intended to be activated by rain or morning dew. Knowledge of several types of crops, as well as the chemicals used, work hand in hand with the skill required to fly extremely close to the ground, crops and electric power lines when working as a crop duster.

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