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Program Designed To Reduce Drift

Ag pilots test equipment at fly-in

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Five agricultural aviation companies that serve the agricultural industry in Louisiana got their equipment tested Oct. 4 at the Jennings airport with the help of the LSU AgCenter and the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry (LDAF).

Liquid testing was conducted to determine if the airplanes’ spray systems have an even distribution. Pattern testing is important to reduce chances of crop injury when applying herbicides, as well as chemical drift. Pilots sprayed a mixture of tap water and a red dye over a 1-mm cotton string. Watersensitive papers are used to detect spray patterns, and a computerized system analyzes the string and compares the distributions.

Personnel from the LDAF and LSU AgCenter worked to set up the testing.

“We’re trying to do this throughout the state,” says Billy Precht, president of the Louisiana Aerial Applicators Association (LAAA) and owner of Riceland Aviation of Jennings. “In the spring, we hope to do this in north Louisiana.”

Aircraft Are Tested To Industry Standards

The effort is based on a national program as complaints about pesticide and herbicide drift have become more of an issue in recent years, Precht says. “This is something we’ve needed, and we’re just getting in on the ground level. It’s all part of self-regulation.”

The fly-in provides the chance for older pilots to pass down their knowledge to younger ones, he said.

LSU AgCenter agricultural engineer, Roberto Barbosa, analyzed the test data to determine how well an airplane’s spraying mechanism is working.

“We’re making sure our equipment is up-to-date and working properly, and we have proof of it,” says Robert LeJeune of LeJeune Aerial Applicators, based in Basile. “This is how we show our aircraft has been tested to industry standards.”

“It’s more or less making sure our equipment is doing the job,” Precht says.

The testing saves hundreds of dollars in fuel that would be required to troubleshoot a problem, and the testing does not require spraying any expensive chemicals, he says.

LDAF officials encouraged the testing, says Bradley Reed, vice president of LAAA and owner of Reed Aviation based in Iota. “They came to us and said we’d like to see it, and, fortunately, we have the LSU AgCenter Extension Service to help us.”

Cooperation between the state agencies made the program work, LeJeune says. “We really have some people with a lot of energy and good ideas in LDAF and the Extension service.”

Engineer Strives To Modernize Testing Equipment

Pilots usually make three passes over the 150-foot cotton-string system. In the first two passes, only the string is used to record spray pattern. In the third pass, water-sensitive papers are used to document droplet size.

On this day, no problems were found in airplanes from all five companies tested.

LSU AgCenter agriculture engineering research associate, Yin-Lin “Jack” Chiu, is working to modernize the testing equipment, including a fluorometer that reads the spray distribution on the string. Other instruments automatically gauge an airplane’s speed and height, wind speed and direction and several other variables.

Barbosa has conducted the testing for several years, but he said the LDAF asked the LAAA to assume a leadership role to get a voluntary program throughout the state.

Arkansas requires regular testing, Barbosa says. “We’re trying to keep the program voluntary, but we do want to see every pilot at least every three years.”

LSU AgCenter contributed information for this article.

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