Planes on the farm

Standing at the kitchen counter I heard the distinctive sound of a plane. I looked out our back windows and rising over the trees was a bright yellow airplane.

“Crop plane!” yelled our 4-year-old. 

He was right. Not all farming equipment depends on tires or treads. The plane flying over our fields was an aerial applicator, and he was spraying our crop.

I’d seen the plane apply pesticides over our soybean, wheat, and tobacco fields before, but this was the first time we’d ever hired him to fly over sweet potatoes. My husband had scouted the fields and found worms eating leaves on the sweetpotato vines. If that was all the damage they did, the worms could have enjoyed their buffet because we’ll be digging soon.

However, if the worms are in the field when it’s plowed, they will hitch a ride with the freshly dug sweet potoates. After digging, sweet potatoes are put into wooden boxes and taken to a room where they are cured and then stored until they are packed. They can be stored for up to a year in the right conditions, which is one reason North Carolina sweet potatoes are available year-round.   

When the roots go to storage, the worms would go too. There they would continue their all-you-can eat buffet, eating holes in the sweet potatoes. The insecticide (a pesticide that kills only specific insects) that was applied by the plane will eliminate the worms. Without this, the worms would damage the sweet potatoes in storage. 

When they are packed, sweet potatoes are also graded for quality; those with enough insect damage receive a failing grade. Those roots are used for processed products, meaning fewer fresh sweet potatoes in the produce section. 

An aerial applicator isn’t used every day, but the fields were too wet for the sprayer. They tried to drive across twice but got stuck both times. That’s not good for the tractor, the soil, or the plants.

Time was also a factor in the decision to hire an aerial applicator. It would have taken my husband three days to spray what the airplane covered in three hours. 

The kids and I loaded up into the car and drove out to the field to watch the airplane. As always, I was in awe watching the pilot do his job, and thankful farmers have the option to hire an aerial applicator. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want sweet potatoes with worm holes. 

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