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MDARD Helps Ensure Safety of Aerial Pesticide Applications During Operation SAFE fly-in

LANSING – On April 26, aerial applicators from across the state took to the skies to participate in Operation SAFE fly-in, a program provided by the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) to ensure aerial pesticide applications are made correctly, safely while reducing the potential for misapplications.

In Michigan, commercially licensed aerial applicator businesses must attend an Operation SAFE fly-in once every three years to ensure their spray systems meet performance standards and have their aircraft professionally analyzed for spray pattern uniformity and droplet size. The National Agricultural Aviation Association developed Operation SAFE, an acronym for Self-regulating Application and Flight Efficiency, to assist aerial applicators in meeting safety requirements and addressing issues before they take to the air.

“Farmers may utilize pesticides to protect their crops from disease, bugs, and other pests or use fertilizer to maximize crop yield. Aerial applications are generally the most economical method for pesticide and fertilizer applications,” said Mike Philip, MDARD’s Pesticide and Plant Pest Management Division Director. “By providing applicators with the training and resources they need to test their aircraft before they take to the skies, we can help minimize the risk of potential adverse health or environmental effects of agricultural chemical application.”

Before take-off, aerial applicators must make critical decisions regarding application timing and aircraft equipment set-up. Controlling drift and applying products safely and uniformly present difficult challenges for pilots who apply pesticides and fertilizers from small aircraft. Operation SAFE was created to help aerial applicators address these challenges and issues before they get to work.

During the tests, pilots simulate applications by flying over a flight line of evenly spaced water-sensitive cards to collect a sample of the spray pattern. Special computer software uses the data to determine the spray pattern characteristics. The optimal pattern width and droplet size provides the most accurate applications under the pesticide label.

To find businesses licensed for aerial applications or other categories of pesticide application, visit For more information about MDARD’s Pesticide and Plant Pest Management Division, visit