John Gooden of Viola Del., owns First State Ag Air Inc. Gooden sprays, seeds, and fertilize southern Cecil County in his 2013 402B Air Tractor. His average spraying speed is around 150 miles an hour. This is his fifth plane. When he crop dusts, he is 10 to 12 feet above the canopy of the trees. Right now, he is putting seed out for cover crop program to help keep the nutrients in the soil.

How did you get your start?

I have an uncle in the business. I started with him 16 years ago. I work in Illinois, North Carolina, Virginia, Delaware and Maryland.

How did you train for the job?

You have to get your private pilot license. I bought a quarter share in a 150 Cessna. You need 40 hours to take a test. I went to flight school for a couple of years. I got my commercial license when I turned 18. I just jumped in the seat and started flying. I have been on my own for the last six years.

What essential skills are required?

You have to be on your wits. You can’t second guess yourself; you have to go with it. It is more mental than physical. In the winter, you do continuing education – you have to have so many points to get your license renewed for the state. Every two years, you have to do a bi-annual flight review. Every year, the plane gets taken apart and visually inspected and put back together.

Describe a typical day.

It’s all or nothing in this business. You are sitting around doing nothing, then you are so busy you don’t know what direction to turn. The phone is quiet all winter, but during spray season, it is ringing off the hook. I start in North Carolina spraying wheat in April and work my way up here.

What’s the best part of the job?

You are your own boss. Taking checks to the bank and as long as you are making the payments at the end that is the best part. You have no family life in this business. When they need you, they need you. It is seven-days-a-week job. If you are sick, you keep on going. But it’s what I love doing.

What’s the biggest challenge? People. A lot of people don’t understand the business. They think you are doing something wrong. The new developments make it difficult. The local people know what we are doing, but the new people don’t understand. Right now, we are putting seed out for cover crop program to help keep the nutrients and run off from going into the bay. We usually fly 5 to 10 feet to get the best spread pattern for seeds. That causes people to worry.

What advice would you offer someone looking to go into this field?

It takes years. A lot of people go to the AG school and spend a lot of money and think you will come out and be a crop duster, but it takes years to develop the contacts and the farms to make a living at it. Every day is a new experience.

Know a person or a profession that would make an interesting On the Job profile? Contact reporter Adelma Gregory-Bunnell at (443) 245-5033, or on Twitter: @Adelma_Whig.

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