These are strange and unnerving times to be a crop-duster, says Orleans County resident Edward Steuber.
Steuber, 54, a Vietnam War combat veteran, is one of a handful of crop-dusters in Western New York. Since the terrorist attacks that shocked the nation two weeks ago, his company, Dawn Patrol Aviation, has been grounded three times.
Since federal agents learned that terrorists have studied the possibility of using crop-duster planes for a biological attack, Steuber said he has been questioned repeatedly by the Federal Aviation Administration and uniformed deputies.
Meanwhile, state troopers have been out at small airports in the region, asking questions about Steuber and other crop-dusters.
"They've told me, 'Make sure your plane is secured at all times,' " Steuber said Monday. "I guess they're worried that terrorists will try to sabotage my load or maybe steal my plane. I'm watching everything very closely.
"It's certainly unusual," said Steuber, who has been spraying cabbage and squash fields in Orleans, Genesee, Niagara and Monroe counties for the past 30 years. "It may be a bit of an overreaction by our government, but I understand. It's a bit frustrating, but I will cooperate completely."
The most recent of the three FAA-ordered groundings of crop-dusting planes began Sunday morning and is expected to end today, Steuber said.
Steuber finds it strange that terrorists would consider using a crop-dusting plane to disperse deadly chemical agents.
"From everything I've read, you could just as easily disperse it from a car driving down the Thruway, or many other ways," he said.
Four companies do the vast majority of crop-dusting in New York State west of Syracuse, according to Bob King of the Cornell Cooperative Extension in Rochester. Most of that work is done earlier in the growing season.
While the spraying season is mostly over, Steuber usually makes a fair number of runs this time of the year, spraying fungicide over cabbage and squash. "The only thing that will spray it without damaging the crop is the airplane," he said.
Steuber said he can wait a few days or even a week, but if the ban "continues for the next two or three weeks, it could have a significant impact" on his business and the crops he still has to spray.
A Marine Corps veteran, Steuber served in Vietnam as a door gunner on a helicopter. He said he saw so much human suffering during the Vietnam War and hopes the United States can find and punish the terrorists from the Sept. 11 attacks without an all-out war.
The Orleans County man asked The Buffalo News not to list the specific location of his business or publicize where he keeps his two biplanes.
"Why invite trouble?" he said.
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