A crop duster is a small plane that’s used to spray insecticides and pesticides over farmland.

Most crop duster planes are small single-engine planes that fly low over the ground to spray the chemicals and fly between 10 and 15 feet above the ground when spraying.

Flying so close to the ground means being a crop duster pilot is a relatively dangerous profession.

Crop dusting is also considered dangerous because some of the sprayed chemicals could potentially be inhaled by people nearby, with most chemicals in pesticides and insecticides being dangerous for human health.

So there is a concern that crop dusters could negatively impact the environment and human safety. 

Crop Dusters Fly At Low Altitudes

Most crop dusters fly between 10 and 15 feet above their target. They’ll also fly no higher than 500 feet in altitude while flying from their base to the field or vice versa.

If a crop duster needs to fly higher, most reach up to 11,000 feet.

The highest any crop duster aircraft has flown is around 24,000 feet. 

Related: How High Do Planes Fly?

How Often Crop Dusters Spray

Crop dusters spray the same field every 25 to 30 days for most crops.

The exact frequency depends on the type of crop and type of pesticide.

Why Crop Dusters Sometimes Spray At Night

Crop dusters sometimes fly at night because the cooler night temperature makes spraying more effective.

But there is danger in nighttime crop dusting due to low visibility, especially since crop dusters fly close to the ground. 

What Crop Dusters Do in the Winter

Crop dusters perform aerial seeding in winter.

Aerial seeding is a technique that involves spraying seeds from the air to the ground. 

What Crop Dusters Spray

Crop dusters spray four different types of agricultural chemicals: insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, and fertilizers.

Most, if not all, of these chemicals, are water-soluble.

The chemicals are often purchased in an undiluted form before being mixed with water and pumped into a spray tank.

During the winters, crop dusters are also often used to spray seeds over farmland. 

Dangers of Crop Dusting

Crop dusting is a dangerous job for pilots.

Despite increased safety standards and technological progress, it remains a dangerous activity, as pilots fly extremely low while crop dusting, which means collisions and stalling can occur.

Another safety concern is from the environmental perspective.

The pesticides released during crop dusting might eventually drift into the lungs of the local residents.

As pesticides contain dangerous chemicals that can hurt humans and animals, there is a debate about whether crop dusting should be legal or under what regulations. 

The License Crop Duster Pilots Need

Crop duster pilots need a commercial pilot license from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

They’ll have to pass medical examinations and complete the required flying hours to obtain this license.

Crop duster pilots must also receive agricultural pilot training. 

Crop Duster Salary

The average American crop duster pilot earns around $40,000 annually, plus another $50 per flight hour for additional flight hours.

The salary range for crop duster pilots varies from $34,800 on the low end to as high as $147,890.

The exact salary depends on the pilot’s experience, with only the top 13% earning $147,890 annually. 

In conclusion:

  • Crop dusters are planes used to spray chemicals, insecticides, and pesticides over farmland.
  • Crop duster planes are usually small single-engine aircraft.
  • These planes fly as low as just 10 to 15 feet above the ground while spraying.
  • The chemicals they spray include pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, and insecticides.
  • Most crop dusters will spray a crop once every 25 to 30 days, but some may spray more or less frequently.
  • Crop dusters are even active during the winter, when they’re used to spray seeds over farmland.
  • To become a crop duster, a pilot needs a pilot’s license from the FAA, plus the completion of additional agricultural pilot courses.

Helen Krasner holds a PPL(A), with 15 years experience flying fixed-wing aircraft; a PPL(H), with 13 years experience flying helicopters; and a CPL(H), Helicopter Instructor Rating, with 12 years working as a helicopter instructor.

Helen is an accomplished aviation writer with 12 years of experience, having authored several books and published numerous articles while also serving as the Editor of the BWPA (British Women Pilots Association) newsletter, with her excellent work having been recognized with her nomination of the “Aviation Journalist of the Year” award.

Helen has won the “Dawn to Dusk” International Flying Competition, along with the best all-female competitors, three times with her copilot.