Aerial application on the rise in Ontario

Thinking about using an aerial applicator this year to fly on fungicide, fertilizer, or cover crops?

If so, you better grab your phone and book a supplier, says Dan Haupt of Blenheim, ON, based Zimmer Air Services. The family-owned company, currently operated by Paul Zimmer, has been serving Ontario agriculture since 1974.

Haupt says farmers have traditionally viewed aerial application of seed, fertilizer, and crop protection products as a reactive strategy to unexpected pest challenges or bad weather that keeps ground applicators out of the field. But the business is changing quickly and growers who look to aerial applicators at the last minute could be shut out.

“We’ve moved beyond that,” says Haupt. “Much like today’s modern farmer has to pre-order equipment, seed, and chemical, we’re in much the same boat. If we’re going to get done what we need to get done in order to stay efficient and keep prices down… we need guys to book their acres.”

Helicopters are a better fit for Ontario’s smaller farm fields, says Zimmer Air’s Dan Haupt. “And there’s not necessarily runways at every street corner like they have out west where they can land on the road.”

Zimmer also serves the forestry industry but agriculture remains the hub of its business and continues to grow. Fungicide application is the biggest revenue stream and the busiest time for the business. It’s intense: last summer Zimmer flew fungicide on 70,000 acres of corn and soybeans during the three-week application window.

In this interview with RealAgriculture’s Bernard Tobin, Haupt also discusses how growth of cover crops is impacting Zimmer’s business: “It’s delicate work that requires accuracy, and it’s more and more in demand,” he says.

Like all areas of agriculture, GPS and precision farming applications are having a huge impact on how aerial applicators do business. “GPS allows us to fly in any terrain and allows us to be accurate within a foot.” Back in the ‘old days’ Haupt notes that flagmen stood in the field and would move across the field with each pass.

In the interview, Haupt discusses Zimmer’s fleet and why the business relies primarily on helicopters as compared to planes, which dominate in Western Canada. Basically helicopters are a better fit for Ontario’s smaller farm fields, notes Haupt. “And there’s not necessarily runways at every street corner like they have out west where they can land on the road.”

But relying on choppers doesn’t slow Zimmer down. “We rely on bringing our mix right to the grower’s field and fly, in a lot of cases, right off the top of the mixer,” says Haupt. “We apply the product at 100 kilometres per hour. If we have that mixer right beside us, to do a hundred acres in an hour is nothing.”

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