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Plane ride launches Hector man's 36-year crop spraying career

HECTOR -- Zipping along at 140 miles an hour just above the corn tassels while dodging power lines, trees and towers is not the time to be wondering if you've made the right career choice.It's never been an issue for Ed Newberg of Hector. His car...

Ed Newberg
A plane ride at age 10 was all it took to hook Ed Newberg on aviation. He was inducted into the Minnesota Aviation Hall of Fame Saturday in Bloomington. (TOM CHERVENY | TRIBUNE)

HECTOR - Zipping along at 140 miles an hour just above the corn tassels while dodging power lines, trees and towers is not the time to be wondering if you’ve made the right career choice.
It’s never been an issue for Ed Newberg of Hector. His career trajectory was launched at age 10 when a Minnesota State Patrol pilot gave him his first plane ride.
“I was hooked. Everything else was boring after that,’’ said Newberg, who turns 62 this month.
The crop dusting company he started, Newberg Sky Spray, is starting its 36th year based from the Hector Municipal Airport. It’s where Newberg serves as the fixed-base operator, and operates his other businesses, including Newberg Brothers Inc. with his brother Curtis of Willmar. He buys and sells airplanes, and sells an electrostatic sprayer for crop dusting planes.
Newberg confessed Saturday to an audience of over 450 people that he has never worked a day since he turned his love for aviation into a career. He was inducted into the Minnesota Aviation Hall of Fame that night. His business ventures represented just a small part of what earned him the honor.
In his free time, he loves nothing more than offering free plane rides to introduce young people to aviation. Or, using a device he invented, he hoists people with physical disabilities into the seat of his plane and takes them on plane rides.
He also helps tend to a fleet of classic airplanes in the Commemorative Air Force based in Mesa, Arizona, his winter home of late.
Six years after taking his first plane ride, Newberg made his first solo flight on the way to his pilot’s license.
During his senior year of high school, he was up at 5 a.m. each day to feed the cattle on his father’s farm before school, followed by afternoon job at the downtown pharmacy. After that it was over to the Hector Airport for the chance to fly crop dusting planes and a helicopter. Evenings were spent earning extra cash bagging soybeans until midnight.
His reward was the money to buy his own “tail dragger,’’ or small trainer plane, and his ticket to become a pilot.
Newberg and wife Connie launched Newberg Sky Spray in the fall of 1981, but only after Newberg raised the money he needed by pre-signing farmers in the area for spraying services. He needed to spray 10,000 acres to make it work. A nasty pest known as cercospora leaf spot attacked the area’s sugar beet crop that year. Newberg sprayed 27,000 acres. It was just the start his business needed.
It’s only grown from there. “It seemed like every other year we needed to buy a bigger airplane,’’ he said.
Today the crop dusting business includes two full-time pilots and a fleet of four planes, including turbine-powered planes and an industry classic, a biplane with a 55-foot wing span.
During the early spring, his pilots and planes can be found in locations ranging from Kansas to Colorado.
The busy season here has moved from spring to mid-July and August, when aphids in soybeans and fungus in corn strike the crops at their peak height.
“We’re a bit of a 911 service,’’ laughed Newberg of the urgency that comes with some calls for spraying service.
“The only time I consider the job to be work is those six weeks,’’ said Newberg of the hectic, late-summer season.
There are those who wonder if technology, and the aging of crop dusting pilots, will mean a reduction in the crop dusting industry. Newberg sees the opposite. The demand for crop dusting services has continued to grow, and he knows a lot of young people itching to be in the pilot seat.
He encourages them by repeating the familiar quote that has guided him: “Do what you enjoy and you will never have to work a day in your life.”

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