BROOKINGS – Isaac Wilde is not a “crop duster.”
Forget the movie scenes of a goggled pilot flying an old biplane 2 feet over a crop field and laying down a smoke-screen fog of bug- or weed-killing chemical.
“We like to use ‘aerial application,’” he explained, smiling. “Those days are kind of gone. We do things a little more professionally now.”
“When you go to our conventions now, you’ll see more guys in suits and ties than Wranglers and cowboy hats,” he added, laughing. “It’s just kind of a way we’re trying to take our industry to the next level and get a little more professional appearance.
“You’ve got to present yourself more like an airline pilot. People respect you, they’ll think you know what you’re doing.”
The Lake Preston native graduated from South Dakota State University in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in aviation education and a minor in business.
“I actually started spraying before I graduated college,” he said. “This will be my fourth year spraying.”
Wilde said he always wanted to own a business and literally started “from the ground up.” He leaned toward a small family business because he “wanted to be at home every night.” Spraying is a seasonal business: April, May through November freeze-up.
He and Mandy, his wife of three years, are expecting their first child in March.
He would liked to have been an Air Force pilot and flown fighter jets, but his color-blindness precluded that. However, he could have taken a different path than he did to a career in aviation. “If I wanted to, technically I could even go to the airlines and fly for them, just because of my degree.”
But he’s happy with what he’s doing and proud of the hard work it took to get his pilot’s license, applicator’s license and state pesticide licenses that allow him to work in South Dakota and Minnesota.
“Now that I own a business, it seems like you’re always busy,” Wilde said. ”There’s meetings, maintenance on the airplane, running around getting parts, this and that.”
What he could afford
Wilde Air Service is pretty much a one-man show, working out of the old passenger terminal shared with Civil Air Patrol at the Brookings Regional Airport.
Wilde’s one airplane, his “work horse,” is a 1972 vintage single-engine turbo-prop Thrush Aircraft Commander. It was what he could afford. It was then powered by an old-fashioned radial engine. Then after a good year and business growing, he stepped up and replaced the radial engine with the more powerful turbo-prop.
“The airplane is the most expensive part, and then trying to keep it in the air,” he said. “Parts are expensive. It’s quite an undertaking.”
“We about doubled our business from last year into this year,” Wilde said. “I got fortunate as could be, moving up to this bigger, more expensive engine. Same airplane, different engine.”
“The new engine cost more than my whole airplane, if that puts it into perspective,” he added, with a smile.
Asked about how fast he flies when he’s working a field, he explained that it “depends on what kind of application I’m doing.” For herbicides, being careful not to spray any adjacent fields, he flies at about 120 to 130 mph. Spraying to combat soybean aphids, he ups the speed to about 160 mph.
Where we really shine
Wilde works out an individual treatment plan with each of the farmers he serves.
“The farmer will bring in what he’s got for a problem,” he explained. “We’ll do a specific treatment to that problem. Or a lot of farmers nowadays have a certified crop consultant.
“So they’re making very detailed recommendations that we have to follow in order to get absolute control for the best dollar; or we work with a lot of local co-ops that will bring in recommendations, too.
“We even get out in the fields sometimes and we’ll go out there and look at crops for a farmer, tell them what the issue is and make our recommendation.”
“The backbone of our company is pastures,” Wilde said. “They’re year-in, year-out. We usually hit those in the spring and fall. In between spring and fall, we’ll be doing alfalfa, corn, soybeans, wheat. Those are our big crops around here.”
When it comes to which bugs are of most concern in this area, Wilde cited soybean aphids as one of the most prevalent pest predators.
“When those hit, it seems like every three to four years, you’ll see a lot of airplanes running out of here because we’ve got a lot of ground to cover in a short amount of time.” He said this year he had three or four airplanes in addition to his own to help him.
Wilde noted the role that weather plays in aerial application. (It was raining the day he sat down to talk with The Brookings Register.)
“When you get days like this for three days straight and the work just keeps piling up – I take it personally when I know that farmer’s field is getting chewed up by soybean aphids.
“That’s when I’ll bring in outside help, guys that I trust and have known for many years, to come in and help me spray.”
Wilde explained that most aerial sprays are in liquid form and are “laid down in a real precise application. I’ve got things in my airplane that will guide me down to an inch of where I need to spray. It will put out the product to the 10th of a gallon or even closer.
“Even if you’re going into the wind or downwind, it adjusts for the fluctuation and the ground speed. We make sure every acre of that crop is treated to exactly what the recipe calls for. Everything is very specific nowadays. The difference between 3 ounces and 4 ounces can be the difference between $100 and $200.”
With one load of product, Wilde can go out and cover 150 to 200 acres within 1 1/2 to two hours of leaving and returning to the airport.
“We can do quite a bit of acres in a short amount of time,” he said. “That’s where we really shine, especially where crops are getting chewed up by bugs or even disease. We can get out there and get it done quicker.
“Good old boys like me; they’ve got one or two airplanes.”
Contact John Kubal at [email protected].
Register photo: Isaac Wilde shows off the spraying apparatus on his 1972 Thrush Aircraft Commander turbo-prop. The plane can spray 150 to 200 acres at speeds of 120 to 160 mph, depending on the application.