Idaho company creates drones for agriculture

Growing technology helping in vineyard

CANYON COUNTY -- Drone technology has been hotly debated recently as drones become more popular for commercial and personal use. Now they are also being used for agriculture

Fifteen acres of wine grapes stretch out across Bitner Vineyards in Canyon County. It would take Ron Bitner, who owns the operation with his wife, hours - or even days - to check up on every plant. However, it only took a drone about two minutes.

"What we do with our particular vehicle is detect crop stress," said Steve Edgar, a founder of Empire Unmanned - an Idaho company with the 13th commercial drone exemption in the country and the first for agriculture.

"We've been working since basically March 2012 in developing this program," said Edgar. "So it's been not an overnight success, it's been a three-year process"

The 1.5-pound drone uses a normal digital camera to take photos of the area showing which plants are diseased. It is an exciting use of technology for Bitner and growers like him.

"We still have to be in the field, but the ability to identify specific areas of the field that just need certain treatments really cuts down on applications of chemicals and work and everything else," he said.

Bitner said he could see this being used for other crops, or even livestock.

"It's the wave of the future and agriculture, and we better be allowed to do more things because other countries in the world are getting ahead of us pretty fast," said Bitner.

Empire Unmanned said there is a growing demand for their drone service. They anticipate hiring about 75 more people and are working with companies like Simplot, John Deere and Monsanto.


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