Grounded in Flight
Having been raised in an agricultural community, Blake Allred feels at home in Marshall and wants to keep a tradition going as an aerial crop duster. The tradition was started by his grandfather decades ago.
"Sammie Goldin did this years ago and that's where Sam Dyer got his start. And when my grandfather passed away, Sam continued the service," Allred said.
The interest in flying was passed down to him by his grandfather and brother. When Allred was 14, he started flying with Dyer.
Allred was born and raised in Marshall. In high school, when he was old enough to start working, he raised cattle and now works on row crops.
He graduated high school in 2000 and attended State Fair Community College on an A+ grant. From there, he attended Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Ariz., received a bachelor's degree in aeronautical science and obtained all his flight ratings.
From there he started flying for corporate jets while living in several other locations.
When Sam Dyer decided to retire it was a prime opportunity for Allred, whose grandfather provided aerial crop services before him.
"I wanted to return and be involved with the agricultural community," Allred said.
He operates Allred Aerial Service out of the Marshall Municipal Airport. The 3-year-old company is strictly an application service. A positive feature is Allred is able to mobilize if there is a field closer to another airport.
"My trailer consists of mixing cones, water storage and fuel," he said. "With my FAA certificates and my '67 Piper Pawnee, I can haul 70 acres and do both liquid and dry applications. Either Central Missouri Ag Services or the individual farmer will bring the product."
He then mixes the product and loads it into the plane and is off in flight.
"I'll fly 115 mph over the field and typically 8 to 12 feet above the canopy," he said.
As with farming, many factors affect the spraying season -- weather is a big factor.
"Spraying season depends on the weather. Last year I started spraying southwest Missouri on March 10," Allred said.
His first first spray job for this year was in early May.
"Usually about this time we're doing a lot of herbicide work. We do fungicide and insecticide on wheat. Then we'll move into herbicide work on corn. Then when the corn reaches a certain stage I'll apply the fungicide and insecticide. And anywhere during that period of time if there's a bug problem we'll go out and spray for insects," he said.
There have been highs and lows during his time in the business.
"Since I've started the business we've experienced various weather conditions. This year has just been a late season. There's a lot of factors that play in how each year will pan out as far as business. Weather is a big factor," he said. "Since I've started I've seen little to no spraying and I've seen a lot of spraying."
He said he has a network of friends and other individuals to help if he gets overloaded with work or just can't get to a field. Allred covers Saline and surrounding counties and farms just outside the county.
There is some competition, but Blake works to keep his customers satisfied.
"Customers have been very loyal and have come back. We're tying to build that customer clientele," Allred said. "It's all about making the farmers happy to where they'll call you."
He said there are benefits to both aerial and ground applications. It's really what works best for the farmer at that period of time.
"The benefit of aerial applications is that it eliminates crop loss," he said. "With aerial, we're faster. We can get more done in a shorter amount of time."
After he is done with spray season, he turns his attention to cover crops where there has been a lot of interest. After cover crops, the season is over. The plane gets taken away and goes through its annual inspection. Repairs are made, if needed, and then it's put away for the winter at the Marshall airport, he said.
"I'm perfectly content right here and happy to be back in the community. This is what I want to continue doing," Allred said.
Allred believes in the community he lives in and wants to give something back. His aerial service provides him with an opportunity to do just that.
"I've started a memorial fund this year for my mother that benefits the local schools in the area," he said. "She was a school teacher for 42 years. I was thinking about it for several months, and I wanted to do something in remembrance of her to help the area teachers with classroom or program costs."
The money he receives for doing each acre from his aerial service helps support the memorial fund.
"I'm about the community here. This is my home. So I just want to give a little back," he said.