Business

Drone spraying can work for crops like hemp, grapes, says Iowa City company

A Rantizo unmanned aerial vehicle, or drone, sits near a vineyard Friday at Fireside Winery in Marengo. The Iowa City company is using drones to spray crops like hemp and grapes, with an eye toward developing the technology for larger crops like corn and soybeans. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
A Rantizo unmanned aerial vehicle, or drone, sits near a vineyard Friday at Fireside Winery in Marengo. The Iowa City company is using drones to spray crops like hemp and grapes, with an eye toward developing the technology for larger crops like corn and soybeans. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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Spraying pesticide or fertilizer soon could become more efficient — and high-tech — for Iowa farmers.

Representatives from Rantizo, an Iowa City-based drone company, touted its enhancements to existing aircraft to a small group of farmers, including some with a future interest in growing hemp, Friday afternoon at Fireside Winery in Marengo.

Vineyard grapes are just one example of the high-value, low-acre crops the drone technology can benefit, with other possibilities including cannabis, berries and fruits, said Rantizo CEO Michael Ott, who founded the company in early 2018.

Drone spraying technology has been used in China for about a decade but is relatively new in the United States, said Mike Schmitz, Rantizo’s director of technology, who carried out a short test flight Friday.

The aircraft can supplement traditional sprayer vehicles by applying pesticide or fertilizer to a smaller, targeted area, which a farmer can map out by walking around it or inputting waypoints, he said.

The drone then flies back and forth over that set acreage while spraying its product, covering about four to five acres in one hour and requiring roughly one battery recharge per acre, Schmitz said.

He noted one controller technically could control up to five drones at once to cover a larger area, though the owner legally would need to seek a waiver from federal rules for unmanned aircraft, on top of regular licensing requirements.

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Ott said Rantizo will continue developing drone innovations, including electrostatic technology allowing the spray to cover larger acreages. This, he said, could expand its use to more mass-grown crops like corn and soybeans.

Ott said he’s seen a “ton of enthusiasm” among farmers regarding the drone spraying and believes the technology will prove intuitive for farmers both new and old. The automation aspect, in particular, is a selling point, he said.

“Let the drone work for you, and you can go do more valuable things while this goes up and takes care of things in the field,” Ott said.

Dean Brehm, a Dubuque County resident who watched Rantizo’s test flight, said he found the drone spraying possibilities interesting and might take advantage of them after he takes over his family’s farm.

“If they (Rantizo) stay in business, it’s something that I might look up,” Brehm said. “If it saves you money, sure.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8366; thomas.friestad@thegazette.com

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