M&M Air Services of Beaumont Inc.
M&M Air Services of Beaumont Inc. (M&M Air) has been flying high since 1946 when brothers Fields and Poley Mitchell founded the Texas-based aerial applications company. “M&M Air is in its third generation of management and year 68 of same family ownership,” reveals George Mitchell Jr., now second-generation president of M&M Air and agricultural pilot of nearly 40 years. The Mitchell brothers and their business partner, Gilbert Mapes, set up M&M Air to get rice growing operations off the ground.
According to the National Agricultural Aviation Association, rice was introduced into the Carolinas in the late 17th century. Today, U.S. farmers raise the viable crop on 3.3 million acres across six regions; Arkansas’ Grand Prairie and northeastern Arkansas, the Mississippi River Delta, California’s Sacramento Valley, the Missouri “Boot Heel,” southwest Louisiana and the Coastal Prairie of Texas. Agricultural aviation is an integral part of rice production and extended growing seasons and new rice hybrids have made the job more complex.
Seed to sow
“My father, Fields, and my uncle, Poley, started the operation to seed rice, primarily pre-sprouted rice,” reveals George. “They pioneered water-seeded rice, placing the seeds in a water container for 24 to 36 hours prior to actual seeding. This causes the seed to warm and germinate before it’s sowed into a flooded rice field.”
But to sow the rice seeds the brothers needed the necessary equipment. “They wanted to get a plane from the war surplus and modify it to sow rice, but in the 1940s, you had to be an ex-military person to access the equipment,” recalls George. “That’s where Gilbert came in. He helped Fields and Poley get a plane. Gilbert eventually sold out and it was the Mitchell brothers from then on.”
George joined his father and uncle in 1956. “I put myself through college by flying at M&M Air and I stayed after college, as well,” he shares. “I’m 74 years old now and I’m still here every day.”
The Mitchell legacy continues through George’s sons and daughters today. “All of my children are involved,” he says proudly. “They range from 40 to 50 years old; David, Mark, Lisa and the youngest, Andy. Mark and Andy are pilots and David and Lisa are administrators.”
The times, they are a-changin'
After flying for the better part of his life, from 1958 to 1997, George has seen the industry change dramatically and says the M&M Air of the late 1950s is very different from the M&M Air today. “Back then, we had pilots covering 90,000 acres of rice and now it’s more like 15,000 acres,” he reveals. “There came a point where I knew we either had to diversify and go into other avenues that could use our expertise or scale down; so we did both.”
In the last decade, M&M Air has broadened its scope of services, expanding into firefighting, corn and cotton fertilizing, pastureland applications and brush and timber spraying. “Today, we cover approximately 250,000 acres across all applications,” notes George. “Some of the older aircraft remain, but most have been replaced with more efficient ones that can do the work of four of the original planes.”
Today, based in Beaumont, Texas, M&M Air employs 30 individuals, including 10 pilots. “We serve the lower 48 states,” mentions George. “We’re now a fire resource for the National Fire Center in Boise, Idaho. We have four pilots dedicated to that, working in mainly the 11 western states.”
George goes on to explain that the company also has three planes committed to fertilizing pine trees for timber companies in the mid-south, ranging from Texas to Louisiana, Mississippi to Alabama and all the way over to South Carolina. “We keep two planes local to seed and fertilize crops and we also send two to four planes in the summer to Illinois to spray corn,” he continues. “We’re spraying brush in western Texas and southeastern New Mexico out of an office in Fort Stockton, Texas.”
From timber to brush, corn to cotton, M&M Air has it covered from above and even after 68 years, George doesn’t see things slowing down just yet. “Houston is growing so fast with rapid population expansion,” he reveals. “In the areas around the metro plex to Beaumont there’s a great deal of residential development. We’ve purchased John Deere ground equipment for cover that’s not as loud and better to use in close proximity to neighborhoods, but our primary business is still aerial applications.”
At 74 years old, George says he has no plans of retirement. “This is a dynamic business,” he examines. “There are different issues almost every day and it keeps you on your toes. Not only is this my livelihood… it’s my life, my recreation, my hobby, my want-to-do. I don’t know what else I would do. My experience is my legacy.” M&M Air Services of Beaumont Inc. continues to build on a 68-year, high-flying, family legacy.