Confronting environmental challenges from a growing population to ensure a stable and ample food supply is the next great challenge facing agriculture. Aerial applicators are well-suited to help farmers face these challenges.
- According to the United Nations, the world population is projected to reach 9.8 billion in 2050, meaning the next three decades may see an additional 2 billion people occupying the planet. That means cities and urban areas will continue to expand and farmland use will likely continue to shrink. The growing population will also result in additional environmental challenges. More than ever, the name of the game for growers and aerial applicators is sustainability. Going forward, aerial applicators will continue to aid growers in reducing biodiversity loss and increasing the productivity and resilience of their farmland.
- Agricultural practices can help build up carbon in soils. Growth in cover cropping and bio-energy production markets look promising for aerial applicators in this respect. In the case of cover crops, they increase water-holding capacity, reducing susceptibility to drought. Their roots improve soil structure by creating passages that allow for increased moisture and aeration, which reduces soil compaction. Leaves of cover crops provide shading, which can help control the rate of evaporation from the soil. Conservationists believe in the benefits of cover crops and are working with farmers to ensure that more cover crop acres get planted. Aerial applicators are uniquely qualified to help farmers seed cover crops due to the speed and precise timing of aerial application. The ability to seed large tracts of land quickly is an obvious advantage for aircraft. More importantly, aerial application expands the growing window. An aerially applied cover crop has a longer timeframe to grow, aerate and contribute natural nutrients and moisture to the soil than a cover crop drilled into the ground after harvest does.
- Hyper-precision agriculture/application, an area in which aerial applicators are involved both from taking aerial images and making variable rate applications, was a $5.1 billion industry in 2018. It is expected to grow to $9.5 billion by 2023. Aerial applicators will continue to play an important role in both taking the aerial images needed to create prescription maps, but also making precise variable rate applications, administering the exact doses of nutrients and plant protection products needed for different parts of the field to ensure more and more improved sustainability.
- Precision agriculture will continue to grow in importance and agricultural aviation will become even more critical as agricultural aircraft become remote sensing platforms themselves, able to scout for individual pests at the plant level. Aerial application equipment will become automated and able to scout, identify, prescribe solutions, and make applications in real time with even greater precision and consideration of meteorological conditions and other variables influencing product movement. Automation of the application equipment will enable the pilot to solely focus on flying the aircraft, surveying for obstacles and resulting in even more improved ag aviation safety.