Crop Duster Groundings Might Hit Harvest
By Greg McDonald, Senior Writer
Farmers in many states might feel some impact at harvest time this fall from the post-September 11 grounding of 5,000 crop dusters.
The planes and helicopters used to spray fertilizer and chemicals on millions of acres of U.S. farmland are flying again now after being grounded for a day or more three times in the two weeks since gangs of suicidal terrorists turned hijacked passenger jets into flying bombs and crashed them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
The first grounding was part of a nationwide aviation stand-down that kept all non-military planes and helicopters out of the air in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attack. But the crop dusters were grounded twice more after the FBI learned that one of the terrorists involved in the WTC attack had inquired about leasing an aerial sprayer in Florida, presumably for a chemical or biological attack,
The groundings occurred during a phase of the growing season crucial to the survival of crops susceptible to disease and insects.
"If (plantings are) not taken care of within hours of when something gets into them, you can lose the whole crop. That's why (aerial spraying) is so important," says Peggy Knizner, director of membership for the National Agriculture Aviation Association.
Farmers from California and Montana to Alabama, Florida and Delaware could end up losing crops that have already been affected by bad weather, everything from lettuce and artichokes to wheat, cotton and citrus, Knizer said.
Besides trying to heighten alertness in the crop dusting industry, federal authorities are urging agricultural businesses in Iowa and other Midwest farms states to be on the look out for anyone trying to purchase large quantities of fertilizer or chemicals.
The products could be used to make explosives, chemical agents or to poison water or food sources, they say.
In other developments:
- In New York, Gov. George Pataki told emergency workers it was time for the state to put fear behind as it begins to rebuild from the tragedy of the terrorist attacks.
- Signalling that officials have begun shifting from recovery to rebuilding efforts, Pataki acted to make it easier for relatives of the more than 6,400 believed to have perished in the attacks to obtain death certificates. Normally, the process takes up to three years, but an executive order issued by the governor will cut the waiting period to a few days at most.
- Meanwhile, The New York Times announced plans to build a new skyscraper headquarters that Michael Golden, vice chairman and senior vice president of the Times company, said would be "the first major icon building in New York City after the tragic events of Sept. 11."
- Americans continue to tell pollsters they believe lax immigration rules may have contributed to the attacks. In Florida, where at least two of the terrorists attended flight school, a survey by several newspapers found that eight out of every 10 Floridians - many of them immigrants themselves - believe the laws ought to be strengthened.
- The economic fallout from the attacks is forcing more and more states to put construction plans on hold, particularly airport expansion plans and highway projects. Officials in Michigan and Minnesota, for example, are rethinking their airport projects.
- Popular tourist states, such as Hawaii, Florida and Nevada, are coping with a huge fall-off in tourism because people are afraid to fly. Hawaii Gov. Ben Cayetano told the Honolulu Advertiser he would seek authority from the legislature to spend an extra $1 billion to help shore up the weakening economy.
- As businesses affected by the Sept. 11 events struggle to stay afloat, colleges and universities are trying to keep foreign students, many of whom pay premium prices for a U.S. education, from withdrawing and returning home. Forty-four students have left the University of Missouri. Others have pulled up stakes at the University of Kansas.