Orth targets crops from above

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September 3, 2015 - 12:00 AM

Sure, Matt Orth enjoys the solitude of flying solo.
But after roughly six months of nearly non-stop sorties over one field or another from Texas to Illinois, such a career “starts to feel a lot like work,” Orth joked Wednesday.
A crop duster, Orth flies a 510 Thrush, a single-passenger aircraft designed specifically for spraying assorted fertilizers or insecticides.
Orth spoke from Allen County Airport, where he is currently based to address fields in Allen, Bourbon and Coffey counties.
He had hoped to get in another few hours of airtime, but Mother Nature failed to cooperate. With steady south winds at about 20 mph, and frequent gusts exceeding 25 mph, the conditions were considered too turbulent to effectively target the ripening soybean fields below.
“We were hoping it would calm down like it did (Tuesday) night,” Orth said.
The lack of activity wasn’t too upsetting, he admitted.
“I’m ready to go home and take a nap,” he said.
He waited for more than an hour for the wind to subside before he could depart.

ORTH OWNS and operates Central Ag Air LLC in Marion, specializing in crop and pasture spraying aboard his 2-year-old aircraft.
The past week or so has been a homecoming of sorts for Orth, a Humboldt native.
With several soybean fields plagued with pod worms, Orth has been tasked with treating area fields with insecticide. He is using Allen County Airport as his home base, refueling and reloading his plane’s storage tanks there. He also keeps his plane stored in a nearby hangar.
Orth is one of two outfits flying out of the Allen County this week. Aaron Phillips of Fort Scott’s Phillips Aviation also has set up a base at the airport as part of an aerial effort to combat the pesky pod worms, and their cousins, the tiny clover worms.
Orth’s marching orders are set up by Jeff Novotny of Mid West Fertilizer, a Paola-based company with satellite locations in Iola, Chanute, Thayer and several other towns across the state.
Novotny’s customers detail which fields they want sprayed so he can coordinate Orth’s daily flight plans.
On a good day, Orth can cover 1,600 acres — about 160 acres per load — before returning to the airport.
“If we try to do much more than that, the pilot gets a little whiny,” Novotny joked.
Orth takes the good-natured ribbing in stride.
“You go where the work is,” he said, noting he has flown over fields from Texas to Illinois since spring, covering wheat fields, corn and now soybeans.
Targeting the pod worms is the highest priority this week, particularly for the beans planted late in the year.
The worms are notorious for boring into the developing bean pods.
“All it takes is one hole and the pod won’t produce any more beans,” Novotny explained.
He estimates pod worm infestation as ruining as much as a bushel per-acre of soybeans each day.
“It doesn’t take long before you have a ruined crop,” Novotny said. “That’s why when our farmers want their fields sprayed, they want it sprayed now.”

ORTH crosses his target fields at speeds ranging from 140 to 160 mph, sometimes at a ceiling of 10 feet or lower.
It’s not your typical leisurely flight.
“You’re going pretty fast, and at that height, there’s a lot of things you can run in to,” Orth said.
Trees, power lines and towers are a particular hazard.
Depending on his workload, Orth either flies home to Marion or bunks overnight with relatives. He grew up on a farm not far from the airport and has stayed with his relatives several nights over the past week.

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