Co-op People: Crop duster

Roger Trump helps farmers with a view from above.

Roger Trump, owner of Trump Aviation Inc. in rural Darke County, expects to be busy this year doing his part to support agriculture from high above farm fields.

Some folks call him a crop duster — a term harkening back to days when men in flying machines dropped only dry products over burgeoning fields. Today, the term “aerial applicator” more accurately describes those who spread various dry and liquid chemicals, as well as seed and cover crops, onto farm fields.

Trump’s work begins in earnest in April to early May and continues through September or early October, with eight- to 10-hour days being the rule, rather than the exception. Trump flies his 1979 Cessna A188B over a 10-county area of western Ohio and parts of Indiana — much of it territory served by electric cooperatives.

“Some people mistakenly think flying across the sky and then swooping down over fields to deliver the payload is romantic or glamorous,” he says. “It’s grueling work, and the most important part is bringing the plane home in one piece. There is never an end to routine maintenance.”

Trump has 30 seasons and more than 8,000 flights under his belt since establishing the business in 1990. He experienced one mishap in all that time — engine failure while spraying fungicide over a field in rural Mercer County in July 2018. He successfully executed an emergency landing in a nearby soybean field, resulting in only minimal damage to the aircraft.

“There was no time to think and only six or seven seconds to react,” he says. “Thanks to experience in aerobatics in my younger days, I knew instinctively what had to be done, and it worked, because I walked away without a scratch.”

Trump, who operates one of about 10 aerial applicator businesses in the state, says many farmers have come to view aerial application as a timesaver. At a speed of 130 miles per hour, he can accomplish more in 60 minutes than ground equipment can do in a day.

“I have to admit it takes me longer to turn my plane than the farmer takes to turn his tractor,” the 63-year-old pilot says with a smile. “My plane also burns more fuel than a tractor, but I get the work done faster.”

Of course, the aerial work isn’t just faster — sometimes it’s the only way the spreading can happen. Because of excessively wet conditions, Trump sprayed more fields in 2018 than he had in any previous season, as farmers had to avoid putting their tractors out in the soggy fields. Flying with the landing gear roughly 5 feet above the crop, he delivered needed chemicals without getting stuck or leaving deep ruts.

Trump also can plant cover crops by air — on a cornfield, for example — before the corn is ready to harvest, which provides a means of limiting both erosion and fertilizer runoff.

He says he may cover 30,000 acres during a busy season, or as few as 18,000 acres in years when his services are not as in demand.

Trump built model planes as a child and larger aircraft — from scratch, not from kits — as a young adult. He competed in aerobatic shows and contests around the Midwest and was even Ohio’s state aerobatics champion before he decided he needed to put his skills to use earning money, rather than funneling everything into the competitions.

Even after 30 years, he has no plans to retire anytime soon. The work may be challenging, but he takes satisfaction in knowing that he’s helping farmers produce food for the world.

Trump Aviation Inc. is located at 5992 Kruckeberg Road, northeast of Greenville.