Photo: Jon Slikker, Jr.

By Jon Slikker, Jr., Aerial Applicator, Vince Dusters

Photo courtesy of Jon Slikker Jr.

Crop Duster—today we love to be called a Crop Duster. When you go into town, you meet someone new, they ask what you do, and you say you’re a crop duster; 9 times out of 10 their faces light up and instantly start asking how crazy and dangerous and cool our job must be. We are more. We are aerial applicators. We are more like farmers and less like daredevils. We will come back to why I am opening with this. This article is about how to become an aerial applicator, aka “Crop Duster.”

To receive the legal requirements of being able to work for hire and fly is very simple. 

Obtain a Pilot’s license through the FAA. You must obtain a minimum of a Commercial pilot license to work for compensation.

Acquire a license to dispense crop protection materials through your state’s department of agriculture or pesticide application regulation agency.

Spend a significant amount of time as an apprentice/inexperienced ag pilot learning the nuances of the trade and eventually become a journeyman/seasoned aerial applicator.

I will refrain from outlining the small details that will go along with these steps. I really feel that many aspiring aerial applicators can navigate these steps easily. Most operations who look to hire a pilot want to ensure you can successfully apply the crop protection materials in a way that is effective in controlling the pest or problem. Probably the largest hurdle for new aspiring aerial applicators is proving this before they even get into an aircraft. Aerial Pest Control Operators/Business owners want you to spend time on the ground learning the basics; various types of chemicals and their unique mode of action, tank mix order and issues, farming cultural practices, crop identification, and various aspects of daily operations. Owners want to see you have “skin in the game”.

It’s so much easier to hire a passionate pilot that cares about his/her role in farming and the protection of the food supply. (Photo: Jon Slikker, Jr.)

What I see is the start of a relationship. I come from a background in sales. I have learned early on that it’s not entirely what you know, but who you know. YES! You do need to know a lot, but you also need to listen, be active, and do the work. When I expressed interest in becoming an aerial applicator my dad, Jon Slikker Sr., said that I had to want it. Meaning PASSION! I needed to prove that by learning the trade before I flew my first load. I started to develop a rapport with the local farmers and learned all about how they farm. Why they made the decisions they made. Talk to the Pest Control Advisors about their expectations and learn why they recommended certain crop protection materials over others. Essentially, I was learning how to farm.

It’s hard to want to hire a pilot that is only about flying an airplane. It’s so much easier to hire a passionate pilot that cares about his/her role in farming and the protection of the food supply. Developing the relationship with the owner and then witnessing your growth will get your foot in the door.

If you’d like to know more about becoming an aerial applicator, feel free to contact Jon at or call 1-661-979-7503.

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