Here in Nebraska, our land is our livelihood — farms and ranches cover 92 percent of the state’s total land area. Agricultural production in Nebraska accounts for $22.6 billion of the gross state product and supports nearly a quarter of the state’s workforce.
Because our farms and ranches are so expansive, small aircraft help us to get food on the table for our own families and for citizens around us in our country, and often, the world.
As an adjunct faculty member in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, I have seen first hand the importance of aviation in supporting our nation’s food production.
There are many unrecognized but important components of our economy and aviation is one of them, particularly when it comes to agriculture. With hundreds of aerial applicator businesses throughout the state, most of them small and family-owned, and 81 airports, aviation helps businesses and farms to keep our economy moving.
A turbine ag aircraft is able to service up to 4,000 acres per day, and on average, protects nearly 50,000 acres of cropland and pastureland throughout the year, depending on weather and crop conditions. In total, the state’s fleet of crop dusters can protect more than 6 million acres throughout the year. When crop pests are present, the crop protection provided by ag aircraft will likely result in at least a 10-percent yield increase over an untreated crop. Without the aerial spraying industry in Nebraska, it would take an additional 600,000 crop acres to maintain Nebraska’s current crop production levels.
In addition, many other businesses rely on small planes and their community airports. General aviation in Nebraska contributes $1.2 billion to the state’s total economic output and supports 7,900 jobs in the state. Business owners who need to travel quickly and to destinations not served by commercial airlines use general aviation to meet with customers and suppliers, transport equipment, and reach new markets.
General aviation doesn’t just benefit businesses. It connects communities in need. Emergency responders, firefighters and law enforcement use aviation to keep us safe. Medical services depend on general aviation to reach rural communities, deliver blood and platelets, and ensure that every citizen can get the care they need.
Yet as much as we understand the importance of small aircraft and airports, there has been a growing and concerning push under way to privatize our air traffic control system, which would take public control of our airspace from Congress and put it in the hands of an entity controlled by big, commercial interests.
This would be a potential death blow for rural America. Congressional oversight is necessary to ensure that America’s air system works for everyone and that rural communities continue to have access to this important public benefit.
Nebraska’s farms are the heart of our local and national economy. Let’s stand up for them by protecting general aviation and access to our air system for rural communities.
Alan Corr is an emeritus Extension educator for irrigation management at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, education director and Operation Safe analyst for the Nebraska Aviation Trades Association, and has worked with the aerial application industry across Nebraska for several years.