Inside the cockpit of his plane is one of the places Michael Rivenbark feels most comfortable. He spends a lot of days soaring over fields in Sampson and Duplin counties, helping farmers ensure a great harvest.
As an agricultural aircraft pilot, he enjoys crop dusting in his Air Tractor 402B for farming — something that’s a way of life for many growers in Sampson County and nearby areas.
“The service that we provide creates more yields coming out of the fields,” Rivenbark said about the aerial application of spraying crops. “It creates a better product for the farmers to supply to the consumers, and it’s great.”
The Wallace-area and Topsail Island native began working on boats after graduating from high school. He went on to work as a private boat captain for a family in Morehead City. But he always had an interest in aviation.
Rivenbark earned his pilot license in 2007 and started spraying in 2010. After receiving his pilot license, he purchased Moore’s Aerial Applicators. He kept the name of the business the same, since it was previously owned by Henry Moore for more than 50 years.
The process starts with loading crop protection products to apply on fields. Some of them include fungicide or insecticide, which are used to build healthier plants and to get rid of pest such as stink bugs. Inside the plane, Rivenbark can carry enough to cover up to 200 acres. Next, he makes his way to the field, before checking for hazards such as power lines, poles, trees or other structures. A GPS system allows Rivenbark to have a uniform and precise location to place the chemicals on the fields.
“You start on one side of the field and the GPS sets everything up for you,” Rivenbark explained. “Once you get it set in the field, you continue in a pattern until everything is done.”
He flies about 10 feet away from the crop to stop drifting and to hit the right targets while making uniform coverage. Being low to the ground comes with experience.
“You get more comfortable with it and each ag pilot has their own limitations,” he said. “As you get more experience, you’re able to make the applications more comfortable.”
During the year, Rivenbark sprays blueberries, corn, soybeans and wheat and spends between 400 and 500 hours up in the air. He recently finished working 32 days in a row spraying for insects.
“Whenever it’s there, you got to go and you got to spray it as soon as you can,” Rivenbark pointed out. “Insects in a field can damage a field within a matter of hours. That’s one the advantages of aerial application. You can treat a whole lot more acres with an airplane in a timely manner than you could with a tractor, if it was available.”
As the owner of Moore’s Aerial Applicators, Rivenbark said he wants to continue to keeping up with technological advances.
“A lot of it is staying on the cutting edge of technology as it becomes available and being able to do a better job for everybody,” he said.
One of the biggest challenges for agriculture pilots comes from drones and making sure they’re not flying around in the working area. Rivenbark’s plane travels at 140 mph across the field, which makes it difficult for him to see small drones.
“We’re one of the few aviation sectors working between ground level and 500 feet above the ground, which is where a lot of the drones fly,” he said. “I can’t say it’s necessarily been bad in our area, but it’s something definitely to be cautious of.”
When he’s away from the field, he enjoys flying to see family and friends for vacation. After taking time off, Rivenbark is always ready to help farmers feed the world.
“It’s awesome and definitely no other job like it.”
Reach Chase Jordan at 910-249-4617. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.