Teamwork Is Key For Pilots & Farmers


My grandparents started Jones Flying Service in 1963, and I started flying for the business in 1997 as a third-generation ag pilot. In 2007, I also began farming rice and custom harvesting. And in 2016, I added a walnut orchard to my operation.

Conditions for growing rice were favorable last season until we got a heavy rain in the middle of October. Although adverse weather extended the time it took farmers to harvest their crops, yields and quality were good overall. For 2017, many California rice farmers are in a holding pattern waiting to see what rice prices and the water situation will be. We have had some rain but not enough to get us out of the drought yet. And if the pattern continues as it did last year, most of the water districts won’t tell farmers how much water they will get until May 1. Some growers have the ability to pump water; but for farmers who are dependent on allocation from the water districts, it’s nip and tuck.

Granite SCA Balancing Act: Weeds And Restrictions
During the season, the main weeds we have trouble with include sprangletop, ricefield bulrush, smallflower umbrella sedge and watergrass. Last year sprangletop was the toughest weed to control. We typically apply dry, granular clomazone herbicide by air to take care of it at planting time. However, we are noticing this material is not as effective as it has been in the past.

About three weeks into the season, we apply Granite and/or Regiment herbicides to control ricefield bulrush and smallflower umbrellasedge. This second application can go on by air or ground, depending on buffer zones around the field. Our last herbicide application by air is propanil to pick up any sedge and bulrush that are present about a month and a half after planting.

As ag pilots, we have to be aware of and abide by wind restrictions. For example, if the label says wind speed must be at least 2 mph and no greater than 8 mph, but the county says wind speed can be no greater than 6 mph, we have to adhere to the stricter rule. When we can’t apply by air, we have two ground rigs we can use. We also have helicopters to touch up weedy areas in the field. And some farmers prefer we use a helicopter instead of a plane to spray a certain material. Whereas a plane flies at 140 mph and a ground rig runs at about 6 ½ mph when it sprays, a helicopter goes about 50 to 60 mph when applying herbicide on rice. The method we use may be a matter of preference or necessity.

Keeping sprays on schedule is important for everything to run smoothly for both the farmer and the pilot. If a grower says he is ready for us at 8 o’clock tomorrow morning, then we are coming. If the wind is not right when we get there, we appreciate patience. The season can be a bumpy ride for California rice. But if we hang in there together as a team, it will all work out.

Chris Jones
Jones Flying Service
Biggs, Calif.

  • B.S., Finance, Sonoma State University
  • California state representative for the National Agricultural Aviation Association (NAAA). Serves on the Government Relations and the Safety and Federal Aviation Regulations committees
  • Pilot representative alternate on the Agricultural Pest Control Advisory Committee (APCAC) within the Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR)
  • Has served on the California Agricultural Aircraft Association (CAAA) executive board for the past 10 years as chairman, vice president and secretary/treasurer
  • Wife, Shawna. Daughters, Sarah, 17, and Kylie, 13. Son, Tyler, 15. Enjoys flying, fishing, travel, sports, chasing the kids and working on a 1966 Ford Mustang
  • Flies an Ag-Cat Model C with a Pratt & Whitney -42 turbine engine.

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