This is definitely not a job for the faint of heart as it is extremely dangerous! But, there are some really cool things about becoming a crop duster which we will dive into below.
But first, let’s get the name straight. Those that work in the field prefer to be called “aerial applicators” or ag pilots”. Crop duster is the least favored name to use!
If flying too low to the ground scares you, then you can also consider becoming an aircraft mechanic and work side by side with these aerial daredevils.
So, let’s get started and see if this job is one you just might find interesting!
What Does A Crop Duster Do?
Crop dusters are those acrobatic planes (or helicopters) that you might see flying really low above farmland or forests. Their planes are filled with pesticides or other chemicals to treat the ground below.
For example, if a crop is having issues with insects and ground treatment has been ineffective – a crop duster may be used to offer additional treatment. Because these agricultural planes can cover such long areas it makes it incredibly effective for battling these kinds of issues.
A list of some common activities includes:
- Keep airplanes and equipment maintained
- Apply pesticides, fertilizer, or fungal treatments to crops
- Mix and add chemicals to the plane
- Maintain updated certifications and licenses
- Act as a mentor for new pilots
- Keep accurate notes and details on applications that were done
- Analyze all areas that can cause issues with the fly zone (ex: buildings, trees, wires)
There may be other needed duties as well but these are the most common.
Some pilots will also assist in wildfire scenarios if extra water delivery is needed from the air.
How To Become A Crop Duster
To work as an ag pilot you will be required to earn a private and then commercial pilot license and receive agricultural specific training.
A lot of crop dusters start out as ground support for the crop dusters. This can include being a loader or mixer for example. These are the guys that are getting the chemicals together and loading them on the plane. It is a good way to get your foot in the door.
Below are the recommended steps to becoming a crop duster, but please check your local requirements as they may require more! Some have actually gone on to do aerial applications without any type of Ag Aviation school, so some do not believe that step is entirely necessary.
It is highly recommended you connect with your locals who provide these services and see what opportunities they have to get you where you want to be.
1 | Pilot License
It is highly recommended that aspiring crop dusters start out with a private pilot license and then work their way up to a commercial license which is typically required to be an agricultural pilot. A commercial license requires 250 hours of flight time.
2 | Medical Certification – Class II
Class II medical certifications are for those that are looking to get into the agricultural aviation industry and will be part of earning that commercial license. The exam needs to be done by an FAA-approved Aviation Medical Examiner.
3 | Agricultural Aircraft Training
Because pilots will be dealing with liquid chemicals it is important to have a thorough understanding of what they will be spraying. Attending an agricultural pilot training program will help you learn about chemicals, crop dusting, entomology, and more.
After this, it is recommended to start your apprenticeship under an experienced pilot.
4 | EPA Pesticide License
Since working chemicals is a large portion of the job, getting a pesticide license is required. Ag pilots will need to get a license in each of the states they will be working in.
- Aerial Application (Crop Dusting) Advice – Reddit
- How crop dusting looks from a pilot’s point of view – Reddit
5 | Continuing Education
Most states do require aerial application pilots receive continuing education. This will be needed to renew their commercial license.
Crop Duster Salary
According to the National FAA’s Agricultural Explorer organization, the average salary for agricultural pilots $79,000 annually.
This data is from a compensation benchmark review the organization did with existing aerial application pilots.
While newer ag pilots will make less, those with more experience can make closer to $100,000 annually.
Job Outlook For Crop Dusters
The outlook for aerial applicators is very strong.
There are an estimated 2,700 ag pilots in the United States as per the NAAA and this is expected to grow. The general consensus is that as the population grows, the need to treat our crops will only grow.
Crop dusters can work on their own after a few years of experience or work for an existing business as an employee making it a great option for those that want to be the boss at some point.
Is Crop Dusting A Dangerous Job?
Yes, crop dusting is a very dangerous job. Most consider it much more dangerous than the other type of pilot careers out there.
A large part of this is due to the low heights at which they are flying. Without proper preparation and analysis of the flight areas, they can find themselves hitting trees, wires, or even buildings which can be catastrophic.
Between 2014 and 2020 there were 333 ag pilot accidents.
But, there is some good news. The National Agricultural Aviation Association (NAAA) will be introducing a Certified-Professional Aerial Applicator Safety Steward (C-PAASS) program in 2023. It will be a voluntary program and will offer continuing education to ag pilots.
A similar program from the National Agricultural Aviation Research and Education Foundation (NAAREF) has shown a substantial decrease in accidents and fatalities since starting the program.
Another dangerous job if that is your thing that entails flying is an aircraft repo man. If you live for danger – but want good money – it is a solid choice for plane lovers!
Ag Pilot & Crop Duster Flight Schools
Below are a few Ag pilot-specific training programs you can look into.
We are not recommending them or endorsing these crop dusting schools, but are providing them for your convenience. Be sure to do your due diligence before deciding to attend one.
Ag Aviation School
Located in Miller, MO, this school offers flight training just for agricultural pilots. Typically agricultural programs are 40 hours flight time with 40 hours of ground-training. Visit their website.
Ag Flight Pilot Training School
Located in Bainbridge, GA, and offering classes since 1983. They offer free housing and courses are for beginners as well as experienced pilots. Visit their website.
Located in Williston, FL – Eagle Vistas offers programs for those with no flight experience. Programs include training, consulting, and pilot services. Visit their website.
Turbine Training Center
Located in Manhattan, KS, and specializes in courses for turbine transition for ag pilots. Offer courses for newbies and experienced pilots. Visit their website.