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How to Become a Crop Duster

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Crop dusters are part of the aerial application industry. Pilots working in this field can make $60,000 to $100,000 per year for spraying chemicals onto crops, reports The Wall Street Journal. However, achieving that kind of salary also requires exceptional flying skills, knowledge of agricultural chemicals and a willingness to learn the industry. Applicants who demonstrate these qualities are more likely to convince an employer they're ready to tackle the job's financial and physical risks.

Develop Specialized Flight Skills

Getting a commercial pilot's license doesn't qualify you for an agricultural aviation career. You must learn skills that instrument-oriented flight schools don't teach -- such as how to avoid potential obstacles like power lines, states the website. Attend a flight school that specializes in agricultural aviation to get these skills. Four major schools exist in Georgia, Louisiana, Minnesota and Canada.

Learn Agricultural Chemistry

Study the safe application, handling and storage of agricultural chemicals, which you need to know to pass the National Aerial Pesticide Applicator Pilot Certification Examination. Federal regulations require it for working with restricted use pesticides, according to the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture's Aerial Applicators Manual. You may also have to satisfy additional state, territory or tribal regulations -- including basic and category-specific examinations in your chosen specialty -- as well.

Start at the Bottom

Show a willingness to learn the industry's less glamorous aspects such as ground crew work, or cleaning aircraft to start out. With planes valued at $1 million or more, no agricultural business owner will allow a novice near them until he shows maturity on the ground, the National Agricultural Aviation Association states in its March/April 2012 article, Landing a Seat. You'll also get a chance to build relationships with farmers, insurers and pilots whose referrals make or break a job search.

Join Professional Associations

Get involved in the NAAA and regional or state agricultural aviation associations in your area. For example, joining the NAAA allows you to register as an active pilot on its website and access job leads through its annual membership directory. Many underwriters also require participation in safety initiatives like the NAAA's Compass Rose and Professional Aerial Applicators' Support System programs -- which focus on beginning and experienced pilots, respectively. Completing these programs establishes your credibility and professionalism.

Participate in Industry Activities

Attend state and regional trade shows and the national NAAA convention to meet new employers and pilots. Get acquainted with them and learn more about the industry that you want to enter, advises NAAA Insurance Committee Member Doug Davidson in his May/June 2009 article, "Insuring New Ag Pilots." Taking this approach will pay bigger dividends than being the "lone ranger" who develops no professional ties.


Ralph Heibutzki's articles have appeared in the "All Music Guide," "Goldmine," "Guitar Player" and "Vintage Guitar." He is also the author of "Unfinished Business: The Life & Times Of Danny Gatton," and holds a journalism degree from Michigan State University.

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