I especially liked watching them seed rice for migratory waterfowl along the I-80 causeway (which bridges the freshwater "sea" that develops between Sac and Davis every winter). I admired them even more when my amateur pilot friend explained how dangerous it was to fly that low over wet ground: the lightest touch between the wheels and water will stick fast and rip the plane right into the earth.
It's appropriate that Dave D., who shared some "hundred dollar hamburgers" with me (courtesy of our pilot friend) forwarded me the following story (ellipses and bold, my emphasis).
Ag pilot says Modesto turned him down for Earth Day booth
The Modesto Bee, April 17, 2010
"Don't call Dave Stein a crop-duster. The 48-year-old pilot is an "aerial applicator." That's the modern term for pilots like Stein who zoom over farmers' fields.
The name isn't the only thing that's changed about his business over the years. Stein thought renting a booth at Modesto's Earth Day celebration today would help educate the public about how aerial applicators, in his view, help the Earth. But the city denied his request, said Stein, on the grounds that he pollutes the air. ...
He says applying pesticides isn't as harmful to the environment as it once was. In the old days, chemicals were powders that drifted easily in the wind. Now, pesticides come in small grains the size of coarse pepper or pebbles. They fall directly onto crops and don't blow around, Stein said.He says aerial application is more eco-friendly than using a tractor: A plane uses 25 gallons of fuel to spray 150 acres, while a tractor burns four times as much fuel.
Ag pilots also help restore habitat by planting native grass seeds; dump water on dusty roads to control air pollution; and service organic crops with organic materials, Stein says. His plane plants rice in the Sacramento Valley, feeds honeybees with sugar water and applies sunscreen to keep fruit and nut crops from getting burned.
When people call to complain after they see Stein's plane in action, he makes it a point to visit them and explain what he's doing. "When I talk to people ... they're relieved," he said. "When I leave these people's yards, they're not mad and we never hear from them again." ..."