In this period of increasing scrutiny of farming practices, issues around agricultural aviation safety are also being put under the health and safety spotlight.
The key areas of focus the New Zealand Agricultural Aviation Association (NZAAA) wish farmers to be aware of and address on-farm are, strip surface, storage facilities, strung wires over gullies, neighbour notification and product characteristics.
Airstrip surfaces must be clear of obstacles, be smooth with no holes and have clearance of any fences or trees at the end of the strip. A farmer should be able to drive his car along his strip at 70 to 80km/h.
Storage facilities should preferably have a concrete base, water-tight sides and a water-tight roof or cover. The area between the fertiliser bin and where the plane is loaded must have a good firm all-weather surface free of any large stones that could contaminate the fertiliser.
Wires strung across gullies are extremely hazardous to both fixed wing aircraft and helicopters. In most cases the offending strung wires are electric fence lead-out wires, which in some cases have been found to be up to 150m above the gully floor. Because they are not carried, before or after the gully, by substantial poles they are extremely hard for pilots to see.
Light conditions relevant to aircraft travel direction also make these wires almost invisible for pilots to spot. NZAAA would like to see all electric fence lead-out wires routed along the top of existing fences at ground level, removing possible wire strikes.
Farmers are required to notify neighbours of any spraying activity adjacent to their boundaries before the day of application.
Farmers need to monitor the modern characteristics of fertiliser blends as many have storage and sowing time limits, type of sowing limitations and other characteristics that may stop a farmer using a particular product in a particular circumstance.
It is important farmers ask their fertiliser representatives about any limitations, to avoid purchasing a product which endangers those spreading it or is unusable once on-farm.
All of these issues have health and safety implications for all parties. It is vital that farmers, alongside the other parties, address these issues. If all involved in the industry fail to act under the guidelines already in place, the risk of further regulation is a real possibility.