Crop sprayers grounded in Western Canada

Aerial crop sprayers are spending more time on the ground than in the air in Western Canada this season, with hot, dry weather limiting disease pressures and changing the economic threshold for insect applications.

“The crops came out of the ground very aggressively and good, but there was a prolonged hot spell without any precipitation and most growers second-guessed themselves on the benefits of a fungicide application,” said Colin Bevan of Air Spray in Kindersley, Sask., and president of the Saskatchewan Aerial Applicators Association.

“Basically, the industry has fallen flat throughout most of the prairie provinces,” said Bevan, noting that his own company would have usually covered 100,000 acres by this time of year, but had only done 10,000.

Bevan said insect pressure could still necessitate spraying, but with the hot, dry conditions and lower yield expectations, “the economic threshold changes for insect applications and it will take a pretty significant infestation of bugs before (farmers) find it financially advantageous to make an application.”

After a busy 2016 that saw heavy disease pressure across much of the Prairies, many air applicators made substantial asset acquisitions.

“… and there will be some financial disparity for sure,” said Bevan.

“Not only is it a drier year, there was also a big increase of equipment brought in,” said Dave Frisch of Jonair Ltd. and president of the Manitoba Aerial Applicators Association.

He said that means there are more aerial applicators around now and the limited dollars must be spread among more providers.

He said given the costs of buying an aircraft, an aerial sprayer who received no work would almost certainly face financial questions.

Bevan said in the past, many farmers paid to have small numbers of acres sprayed by air just to keep aerial operators in business so they would be around when farmers needed them in future years.

“But society doesn’t work on those principles anymore.”

As a result, he said, “there will probably be some failures, and when the crop producers need those applicators they will have shot themselves in the foot.”

While aerial applicators may be grounded right now, Bevan said desiccating canola aerially has also taken off in recent years. Those jobs could provide salvation for some operators, if they happen.

As well, potato fields in Manitoba are consistently sprayed, which limits the downturn in aerial applications in that province compared to elsewhere on the Prairies, said Frisch.

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