Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Ag pilot cartoon sputters

We received a letter-to-the-editor over the weekend from Andrew Moore, the executive director of the National Agricultural Aviation Association.

Mr. Moore was not too happy with the editorial cartoon you see here, which we published in the Capital Press last month. Here's what Mr. Moore had to say:

In the Capitol Press Ag Weekly December 1, 2006 edition, your publication ran a cartoon on page 7 titled ‘Ground Invasion, Air Assault,’ which shows aerial applicators storming ground sprayers. While we understand that the cartoon is meant to be humorous, it paints a negative picture of aerial application pilots and the aerial application industry.

Pilots in the aerial application industry are well-trained, highly professional people who take environmental and public safety very seriously and they do not storm anyone or anything on the ground. In fact, it is a violation of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Worker Protection Standards (WPS) to treat any field with workers present. The aerial application industry is also tightly regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). I am certain that chasing people on the ground would guarantee a violation of 14 CFR Part 91.13, which prohibits “careless and reckless” operation of an aircraft.

Aircraft help in treating wet fields and spraying when crop canopies, such as orchards, are too thick or too high for ground rigs. When pests or disease threaten a crop, time is critical. An airplane or helicopter may accomplish more in one hour than ground equipment can in one day. This means less fuel used, less air pollution and no soil compaction. The aerial application industry appreciates the importance of ground sprayers as a tool needed in agriculture when aerial or chemigation work cannot be done. In fact, many aerial application businesses today use both aircraft and ground rigs to make crop protection product applications.

Today’s aerial application industry is a sophisticated one. Again, our pilots are well-trained, highly professional and they use cutting-edge technologies to ensure their own safety, safety on the ground and the safe application of the products being dispensed. Aerial application assists in providing a safe, affordable and abundant supply of food and fiber for the world's growing population. It is also vital in protecting our natural resources and combating pests that threaten public health, such as West Nile Virus carrying mosquitoes.

The National Agricultural Aviation Association (NAAA) and its membership would appreciate the Capitol Press Ag Weekly providing space in its publication detailing the importance the aerial application industry provides to our nation’s farmers and consumers, rather than deleterious cartoons.

Andrew D. Moore
Executive Director, National Agricultural Aviation Association
Maybe I should have run that cartoon past my father before I printed it. My dad is an aerial sprayer and a past president of the Pacific Northwest Aerial Applicators Alliance. Here was the note I sent back to Mr. Moore.
Mr. Moore,

I would like to thank you for your letter. We will likely be printing it in an upcoming edition, perhaps as early as this week’s edition, which will be published on Jan. 5.

I am saddened and disappointed that you are anyone with the National Agricultural Aviation Association would take offense to the cartoon we published, because I suggested the topic of the cartoon to our cartoonist and made the decision to publish the cartoon. In addition, I am the son of an aerial applicator. I grew up on the site of my father’s home-based business with the runway literally a few dozen yards from my bedroom window. I also have an uncle, who died late last year, who owned and operated an aerial application business. I also have a cousin, who works with my father and his business, who owns and operates a ground-spraying business. My formative years were spent in the company of ag pilots and my first paycheck was earned in the loading pits servicing airplanes.

It was certainly not the intent to portray ag pilots in a poor light. I’m disappointed that the cartoon was taken that way. I can certainly do nothing about how the cartoon was perceived by you or anyone else, but I wanted you to know that my intent in choosing to publish the cartoon was not to disparage an industry for which I have great respect.

Gary L. West
Associate editor
Capital Press
It's sort of odd working in a business and for a publication which covers an industry to which I have a direct family connection. In the traditional mainstream media, I would feel I would need to divulge a potential conflict of interest in writing or publishing anything related to the aerial application of ag chemicals. That's how several members of my family make, or have made, a living (as I've mentioned in a couple of previous blog posts). But now I work for an agriculture media organization where knowledge and understanding of ag-related issues is, if not a necessary prerequisite, an advantage.

It's weird. People who work in the media are often condemned for not relating enough to their sources or their readers. We are perceived as callous or aloof, which in some cases may be accurate. I can say in this case though I chose to put this cartoon on our opinion page because I thought, while not a literal depiction of actual events, it was a visual commentary on an industry (aerial applicators) under assault by the growing use of ground sprayers to do what aerial applicators can do, as Mr. Moore points out in his letter, often more effectively and efficiently. But airplanes spraying chemicals on crops — food — scares many people. Ground sprayers are less visible, less obtrusive and certainly have their own advantages. I picked the cartoon because I though it showed what some pilots may want to do -- to find a way to fight back to protect their livelihood and lifestyle.

I still like the cartoon by our freelance cartoonist Rik Dalvit. I'm sorry if ag pilots did, or will, take offense to the image. It was not my intention to offend or disparage the industry which has fed my family for more than four decades and continues to support many members of my family.

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