Flying Planes, Farming Plains
June 21, 2007
Jason and Sara Hinkle (and their dog Sasha) in the hangar of their business, Hinkle Airspray of Cavalier, N.D.
If you think it gets hectic on your farm, try operating an aerial spray business too, as well as substitute teaching, selling real estate, and raising three children – Daniel, Trevor and Levi – all under the age of five.
Jason and Sara Hinkle farm about 2,200 acres of wheat, soybeans, pinto beans, and sugarbeets near Cavalier, N.D. Jason’s younger brother Justin farms some additional land with them, and operates one of the two planes the Hinkles have in their spraying business.
Jason and Sara have operated Hinkle Airspray Inc. since 1993. Their successful balancing of a young family and two farm businesses has earned them recognition: The North Dakota Department of Agriculture and the North Dakota Agricultural Association recognized the Hinkles with the Outstanding Pesticide Applicator of the Year Award in 2005.
Sara was recognized as Red River Valley Farm Woman of the Year at the 2005 Harvest of Knowledge Agri-Women convention. Last year, she was a finalist for Farm and Ranch Guide’s “Country Woman of the Year.” The kicker is that Sara didn’t even grow up on a farm. She grew up about 15 miles away, and was introduced to farming when she started worked summers for Jason’s aerial spraying and farming operation.
In Sara’s words: It’s tough this time of year (with the kids). When we’re farming and have airplanes going, it’s just too dangerous for them around here. We have daycare during the day and both sets of grandparents are around in the evening, so that’s really nice. We don’t see them much when it gets busy but we have to work when we can work and spend quality time with them when we can.
I drive truck, cultivate, and everything in between (Sara has a commercial driver’s license). I do the bookwork (she has a college background in business education and business management), Jason’s brother Justin handles all the row crop, and Jason the wheat and soybeans, the crops we solid seed. On the spray side, I take customer orders, and load the planes with fuel and chemical.
Jason and Justin fly the planes. Their dad had his own plane to spray his crops, and Jason always wanted to be a spray pilot. Then Justin got into it too. They both studied ag aviation at the University of Minnesota Crookston.
I used to worry, but not anymore. They both have medicals every year and the planes are annualized, and inspected every 100 hours. They run good equipment from a respectable company and the planes are well maintained.
Our customers are our first priority. This is a pretty important business for us, so the customer’s crop gets sprayed first, then we do ours. We just work really hard to get it all done.
The key to balancing it all is in the help that you get. Ours is a family operation, and we can depend on each other to get things done. We also have a farm hand and another who helps mix chemical for spraying. They’re both trained in Worker Production Standards.
We’ve had to adjust our per acre rate because of fuel. I don’t feel that we overcharge. The guys understand, because they have the higher fuel prices too.
There’s more ground spraying by farmers themselves. That’s a trend we’re seeing, with less applied by air. It will get even more interesting when Roundup Ready beets come out. I think that will really affect the aerial applicator in the Valley.
But we can go when ground sprayers can’t. You can keep up with timely treatments and get a treatment on fast. There are still pluses with aerial spraying.
We need to know what’s around that crop. We depend on the customer to let us know about their crop and surrounding crops. If there’s an opposing crop on the east side that we would kill with spray drift, we need to know that so Jason or Justin can make adjustments for wind direction.
I’m a substitute teacher and sell real estate. I enjoy being busy I guess. Jason’s busy fixing things in the winter.
Jason’s dad grew pintos for a long time, and Jason has continued with it. He picks things up about the crop from the bean guys in town and from other farmers. He’s good about asking questions and tries to do things right. For the most part, it’s been a good crop for us.
The farming or the spraying, I can’t pick a favorite. The spraying business is more intense, and sometimes it’s nice to have some solitude in the tractor for awhile. I really enjoy them both. We’re surrounded by family every day, so it’s pretty great.