Agricultural aviation celebrates 100 years in August

aviationAugust marks the 100th anniversary of what is considered the first successful flight of a “crop duster” plane, which applied arsenate to control caterpillars in a catalpa tree grove in Ohio. Since then, agricultural aviation has evolved and advanced into an important part of crop production. Growers rely on aerial applications to deliver plant nutrients, seed cover crops and spray crop protection products.During peak summer months, agriculture pilots (commonly referred to as “crop dusters”) are often seen flying over corn and soybean fields, applying fertilizers and crop protection products. In row-crop country, this familiar practice serves an invaluable purpose for farmers. It may come as a surprise, however, to learn that agricul­tural aviation has been around for nearly a century, reaching its 100-year milestone this August.

In 1921, the Ohio Department of Agri­culture developed an aerial crop-dusting experiment designed to prevent sphinx moth caterpillars from damaging a valuable crop of catalpa, medium-sized, flowering trees known for their distinctive fruit that resembles long, thin bean pods. On Aug. 3, U.S. Army test pilot Lieutenant John Mac­ready applied arsenate dust from a World War I plane over an Ohio catalpa grove. The technique worked wonders. The pests were removed, the crop was saved and the agricultural aviation industry was born.

Macready’s flight paved the way for future advancements and in­novation within the industry. Today, 1,200-horsepower, turbine-en­gine planes and high-performance helicopters treat more than 125 million acres of U.S. cropland each year.

Producers utilize aerial application for a multitude of reasons. A few of the most common are to protect crops from disease, weed and pest damage; deliver much-needed plant nutrients; and seed cover crops. The practice is used to treat larger, more distant areas with less disturbance or fields where conditions aren’t conducive for ground rigs.

“Farming in the 21st century is a complex balance of maximiz­ing yields while protecting the environment and preserving overall sustainability,” said Andrew Moore, CEO of the National Agricultural Aviation Association (NAAA). “Aerial applicators’ efficiency and abil­ity to apply fertilizer or attack pests at just the right time play a key role in helping farmers meet those demands.”

In addition to serving an essential role within agriculture, aerial application is an important tool used in managing forests, fighting wildfires and controlling mosquitoes, Moore added. Looking ahead, this technology may also be used to address challenges related to climate change and the rapidly increasing global population.

To commemorate the centennial anniversary of the first aeri­al application flight, NAAA launched an outreach campaign that includes documentary videos, a history book and timeline, as well as celebratory events held throughout the country. To learn more, visit www.agaviation.org/100anniversary.

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Across the state, Missouri prepares to celebrate bicentennial with a variety of community events

In August, Missouri will officially celebrate its 200th birthday. That means many bicentennial events are planned this summer, culminating with Statehood Day at the Capitol build­ing in Jefferson City on Aug. 10, the date Missouri officially entered the union. This formal recognition of the milestone will include the unveiling of the Missouri Bicentennial stamp, exhib­its in the Capitol, a U.S. Naturalization Ceremony and more.

Here are a few other celebrations happening across the state:

The State Historical Society of Missouri and the University of Missouri are hosting “Together for 21 Fest,” a three-day event at the Center for Missouri Studies and MU’s Columbia campus. The festival, slated Aug. 6-8, will celebrate Missouri’s 200 years through the arts, with activities such as live music, documenta­ry film screenings and folk art demonstrations.

The First Missouri State Capitol State Historic Site in St. Charles will host a commemoration event on Aug. 7 at the place where Missouri’s first legislature met from 1821 to 1826. The event, organized by Missouri State Parks, will give Missourians a chance to tour the original rooms where it all happened.

The Missouri Bicentennial Commission is planning a state­wide ice cream social on Aug. 10. Missourians can join in by signing up online and sharing photos of their community cele­brations under the hashtag #ScoopsAcrossMissouri.

The Missouri State Fair, Aug. 12-22 in Sedalia, will give a nod to the historic anniversary with a bicentennial theme. Com­memorative exhibits and events are joining the fair’s regular agenda of livestock shows, entertainment and more.

The Missouri Bicentennial Quilt is also making its rounds across the state. Quilt block submissions were accepted from October 2018 through September 2019, and one block was selected for each Mis­souri county and the independent City of St. Louis. The quilt exhibition sched­ule will be released a month in advance of each stop. Learn more and check out the submitted and selected quilt blocks at missouri2021.org/bicentennial-quilt.

All in-person events are being planned with health guidelines for COVID-19 safety in mind, but some of them will also be available to participate in via livestream.

Many communities and organiza­tions are planning and hosting their own bicentennial events and projects. Find out more about how you can help celebrate Missouri’s big birthday at missouri2021.org, which includes an interactive map of other activities across the state.

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Research works to tame toxic fungus in wheat

Wheat growers understand the fuss about fusarium, a fungus that can aggressively grow under humid conditions, infecting the crop and reducing grain yield. A University of North Texas researcher, Jyoti Shah, chair of the biological sciences department, is working on a new approach to knock out this fungus and improve food availability for the future.

Fusarium head blight, a disease that affects wheat and bar­ley, can cause losses ranging from $300 million to $1 billion a year in the U.S. alone, he said.

“The infected wheat becomes useless as a food source, both for humans as well as for animal feed,” said Shah, who has been researching wheat for nearly 20 years. “Even if the farmers spray it with fungicides, the disease occurs when it’s already damp and raining. There is high probability that the fungicide will get washed away.”

No wheat variety is already resistant to fusarium, Shah ex­plained. That means genes can’t be moved from one variety to another, which is what scientists normally do to control other diseases.

The research team is working to identify genes in the wheat plant that make it susceptible to the fungus. Reducing activity of these genes increases resistance to the disease. While many approaches to the issue have been tried throughout the years, Shah hopes to explain why some genes react the way they do and how they can be shut off to make the wheat more resistant to the fungus.

“We’re hoping that if it works with wheat, then it’s something that barley farmers can use as well,” Shah said. “It’s going to affect other industries—the flour indus­try, the baking industry and food availability. It’s a global disease affecting the U.S., Europe, Australia, China, and they’re all trying to understand how to control it.”

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