Farr Air opened its doors in 2000, flying a Weatherly 620B aircraft out of Lewvan.
In an interview, Jeff Farr, the owner of the aerial application company, said he didn’t realize they were approaching a milestone, but a lot of things have changed throughout the years.
The business was officially started 20 years ago, but Farr’s connection to both aircraft and farming started way before that.
“I used to farm with my dad and my brother. And we hired aircraft spraying ever since we were just little kids. So we’ve been around aircraft for many years. And my grandfather and my three uncles were pilots as well. So aviation has been around our family for a long time, I just didn’t start flying until 20 years ago,” said Farr.
Farr had firsthand experience with crop air spraying operations since his early years. Back then, with less technology in the aircraft, they marked for the planes and helped with the machines. After a while, the family decided to buy an aircraft for farm use and Farr stepped forward to fly it. That’s when the Farr Air history began, and from there it just kept growing. Farr eventually sold the farm and made aerial crop spraying his “full-time passion and the career.”
They started with one spraying plane and now Farr Air runs a fleet of seven aerial application aircraft across southern Saskatchewan. Plane engines have changed bigtime throughout these years.
“Bigger, faster, more technology in the aircraft. They are capable of doing an auto boom shut on and off for spray control. They come a long ways in 20 years that I’ve been around them,” said Farr.
Throughout the years, airplanes became safer and more productive. Farr Air’s fleet now includes five Thrush 510P’s and two Weatherly 620B's aircraft. The technology inside the machines changed a lot as well.
“When I was a kid, we used to stand with a flag at the end of the field and the airplane would point at you when it was coming down the field. That’s how he knew where he was going.”
Flags on the fields became a notion of the past, and with contemporary GPS the planes are much more precise and can do a lot of operations automatically.
“It’s kept up with the pace of current agriculture.”
Farr’s background in farming helped him to be a strong specialist when it comes to the product and its application nuances.
“In the past, we also used to run a retail farm supply business, so not only do I understand the crops and agronomics of it, but I used to retail the product that we put on them,” said Farr.
“There is lots of new ones, so we have to keep up with them, but we are pretty up to speed on the products we use and the crops that are growing.”
Farr also pointed out that nowadays many farmers use agronomists’ help, which becomes another resource for his business to lean on to deliver the best-working product to their customers.
With farms getting bigger and more productive throughout the years, Farr Air's customer base has also grown.
“We’ve grown because of the needs of the farmers,” said Farr.
When it comes to controlling weeds, diseases and pests in crops, aerial product application has a lot of advantages to it. First, it’s timely as planes can cover much more ground quicker.
“When the product has to be put on the crop, we can get there (fast). If a pest is damaging a crop, we can get out there and cover a lot of ground in a hurry to control the pest.”
Besides, if the ground is wet, sprayers can’t get out to the fields without leaving deep tracks and damaging the crop, but the planes can get the crop without an issue. On the other hand, if it’s really dusty or dry, sprayers could make it worse, preventing some herbicides from working right, while planes can deliver the product properly, making it more efficient.
“We believe the aerial application is more than simply good piloting. It's understanding the products we use and how they affect the world around us. It's this attention to detail that has helped us grow,” says Farr Air website.
Farr Air has seven full-time spray pilots plus one relief pilot. Farr also operates planes; however he noted that as the business grew, he became more of an organizer and nowadays spends less time in the air.
While the beginning of summer is not as busy, it will be picking up here soon. The end of June and July, and mid-August through the end of September, are usually the busiest times for the company. During these times planes are pulled out of the hangar by 4 a.m., and by 4:30 a.m. they are already in the air.
“We fly until the wind picks up, then everybody goes and has a bite of lunch and has a nap. And then we are ready to go when the wind drops down until dark again,” said Farr.
Pilots fly airplanes, and the ground crew loads and fuels them. And while piloting a plane may seem romantic for some people on the ground, for pilots it’s hard work, especially during peak season.
“Ask my guys after they’ve been bouncing around for many hours a day, (if it’s a romantic job). No, it’s not romantic,” said Farr, laughing.
Their main base of operations is in Weyburn, but Farr Air has locations in Estevan, Carlyle, Fillmore, Lewvan, Coronach, White City, Indian Head and Nokomis. When calls for service come, planes move around accordingly.
“We try to come back at night, put them in the hangar so they don’t get hurt by thunderstorms and that kind of stuff. And then they go back out in the morning.”
The weather is usually their biggest challenge. And while peak season might be quite tiring, there is still a lot in this work and lifestyle for Farr.
“My roots are in agriculture and I love being able to be a part of it.”
Farr’s Twitter moto is “Enjoying agriculture from a different point of view,” and that’s exactly how he feels about his business.
“You are dealing with farmers, good people and we are protecting their crops and helping them grow good crops and be prosperous. And it’s exciting to be a part of that,” said Farr adding that even many years later he still enjoys flying, which makes his work even better.
And while the company’s focus is on crops, several pilots were also trained for wildland fire emergencies, and as soon as Farr Air receives clearance from Transport Canada they will be able to partake in operations when the call comes.