Q&A with Riley Emerson, Ground Manager, Low Level Ag

Please tell us how you got started with your business. And how has it been so far?
My cousin Tannon and I have always had an interest in agricultural aviation watching our grandpa, Bob Balisky, spray when we were young kids; it sparked a real interest in us. After taking over the family farm, we saw real benefits in using a plane, and we bought our first spray plane in 2019.

The following year was wet, and we had a pile of work. We turned a lot of business away because we didn’t have enough time to get all the acres done with a small plane. That prompted us to acquire an Air Tractor AT-602 the next winter. We had very minimal plane work in 2021, which, we all know, was a drought year.

Low Level Ag is located south of Eaglesham. Tannon and I own the business. Tannon is also the main pilot. Our hired pilot, Lukas McDowell, flies the ag truck in the spray season; in the off-season, he flies a Boeing 737 for Swoop, the ultra low-cost carrier owned by WestJet. I manage the ground crew, take calls from farmers, and organize everything on the ground.

Could you please describe your services, with a focus on the benefits they provide to agricultural producers?
Our services include fungicide, insecticide any type of foliar fertilizer application, seeding/spreading and pre-harvest work. Agricultural producers will benefit from our aerial application, which will leave no tracks in the field. With grain prices the way they are, our customers will easily pay for the plane from their losses with having tracks in their field while using a ground sprayer. And that is not accounting for fuel, hours on the sprayer, and repairs, among other considerations. We provide excellent coverage, and our efficiency rate translates to 250-300 acres per hour.

Tell us the fleet of aircraft you are using for aerial application.
Our fleet includes a Cessna Ag Truck and an Air Tractor AT-602. The ag truck holds 200 gallons and runs on 300 horsepower. The AT-602 carries 600 gallons and features a 1,050-horsepower engine.

Could you give us a sense of how agricultural aviation has evolved over the years in the Peace County, or maybe in the Central Peace region, in particular?
Aerial application has always had a place in agriculture since the 1980s, and it took off from there. Ground sprayers were extremely small, and a plane made sense because they were faster. Then high-clearance sprayers came out and, in my opinion, could do just as much as a small plane, knocking the industry in the Central Peace back a bit. Lately, and I’d say in the past 10 years, agricultural aviation has come back in a big way. Farmers are seeing the benefits. Farms have become bigger, and farmers see the plane as a real tool on the farm, especially for fungicide, or in dealing with a bug outbreak.

What type of training did you have to go through to become an agricultural pilot and be able to perform aerial application?
Both Tannon and I have our pilot license. Tannon went on to become an agricultural pilot. He went to Miccar Aerial in Yorkton, Saskatchewan for his training, which included all GPS training, tailwheel training, spray training, and pesticide applicator license training. Last winter, he headed back to Yorkton for his turbine conversion course to operate the AT-602.

How safe is agricultural aviation?
Safety is our top priority. Agricultural pilots are highly trained professionals who use cutting-edge technologies to ensure their safety and the safety of the environment and the public. The industry’s accident rate is extremely low. Most aerial applicators have thousands of hours of flight time, but their commitment to improve never stops. Each year aerial applicators precisely test and adjust their aircraft’s spray equipment for accurate applications, and they go to conventions to receive recurring training on pertinent industry topics, including aviation safety, application stewardship and security issues.

What do aerial applicators do to secure the aircraft, equipment and chemicals they use?
Aerial applicators take their responsibility to protect the safety of their neighbors, employees and the public very seriously. Agricultural aviators work with government agencies to ensure the aircraft, equipment and supplies on premises are secure. Signs of suspicious activity are reported to authorities. Due to the high cost of modern agricultural aircraft, multiple safeguards are in place to limit unauthorized access to these machines, including installing hidden security switches to prevent unauthorized startup of the aircraft and elaborate camera, lighting and alarm systems at their hangars and storage areas.

Why would aerial application be preferable to other ground methods of treating crops?
First, an airplane or helicopter can accomplish far more work in a day than any other form of application. Second, aerial application is often the only, or most economical, method for timely pesticide application. For example, when wet soil conditions, rolling terrain or dense plant foliage prevent other methods of treating an area, aerial application may be the only remaining method of pest treatment. Third, aerial application does not compact the soil or contribute to topsoil erosion since the aircraft never comes into contact with the infected crop or the ground. Finally, many studies prove aerial application increases crop yields.

How are you different from other aerial applicators?
We are different in that we have farmed our whole lives. We are farmers first. And we are local. When customers come to us, our customers are doing business with their neighbor. We know first-hand what our farmers need. We always strive for quality applications and in an extremely timely matter. Timing is everything.


  • Address: South of Eaglesham
  • Phone: (780) 837-0118 | (780)-837-4345
  • E-mail: lowlevelagri@gmail.com
  • Website: www.lowlevelag.ca