Agriculture Pilot/Aerial Applicator

Agriculture pilots fly small planes at low altitudes to apply pesticides, fertilizers or fungicides on fields. This method is an efficient way to spread these applications as it reduces the number of times a farmer must drive over the field, reducing soil compaction (when soil particles are pressed together, reducing pore space between them for water to pass through). Agriculture pilots must be able to mix and add chemicals for application, maintain their airplane equipment and keep records of applications to report back to the grower.

What Responsibilities Will I Have?

  • Apply essential pesticides, fertilizer or fungicides to crops
  • Operate planes safely and responsibly
  • Conduct preflight checks
  • Wear protective equipment to protect against the potential harm of chemicals
  • Mix and add chemicals to be applied by the plane or a ground crew
  • Work to keep the airplane and equipment properly maintained
  • Document chemical applications and report back to grower
  • Monitor and analyze the economic threshold (guideline that helps identify when pesticide use is and is not necessary by comparing the cost of yield loss with the cost of the application/preventative measure) of a particular crop to advise growers on when and how much chemical to apply
  • Invoice growers for services performed
  • Consider air speed, wind and weather to determine if conditions are appropriate for application and flying
  • Assist firefighters in the containment and extinguishing of forest fires
  • Post signs and notify residents and businesses of spraying areas
  • Mentor and help train new pilots
  • Maintain certifications and licenses required for flying and chemical application
  • Scout fields for problems that may be a danger to aerial application such as electrical wires or structures
  • Build relationships with farmers and landowners to build clientele
  • Keep an updated knowledge of spraying techniques, safety measures and application trends

Recommended High School Courses:

The following high school courses are recommended:

  • agricultural education, especially agricultural mechanics
  • chemistry
  • business
  • mathematics

Education/Training Required:

A commercial pilot license through the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) with the required flying hours and medical examinations is required to be an aerial applicator. You must also attend either agricultural classes at a university or a flight school specializing in agricultural aviation training and pass a knowledge and skills test administered by the FAA. Additionally, you must have a state-administered Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) commercial pesticide applicator certification. Continued education and training courses are required as aerial applicators/agriculture pilots renew their licenses and certifications.

Some aerial applicators/agriculture pilots have an associate or bachelor’s degree in agricultural science, crop science, aviation or a related field, though it is not required.