LODI — A new drone tech company is hoping its services will take off in Lodi in the coming months and help local grape growers become more efficient.

David Roush, chief executive officer of Aerie Collective, said his goal is to educate local winery owners and vintners about the benefits of drone technology above anything else.

Roush, a former jet pilot from Virginia who took an interest in drones several years ago, said there is a growing need for the technology among the agricultural industry.

“Drones can spray crops, they can detect plant health up to two weeks before the human eye can, they can provide mapping for future projects, and the biggest aspect is that they can be used for marketing with photos and videos,” he said. “Anyone can pick up a drone, but not everyone has a spraying rig for their crops.”

The abilities and benefits of using drones in the ag industry, Roush said, can increase crop yield as much as 5% through analytics, soil composition irrigation, among other uses.

“It’s cheaper, safer and more efficient,” he said. “And you can get more data, as well as get closer to the crop than you can with a plane or helicopter.”

Aerie Collective is based in Folsom, but Roush partners with clients around the state, including Pacific Gas and Electric Co., in which he and his pilots help the company inspect transmission lines, distribution lines and substations for its fire prevention program.

Roush’s sales director has ties to Lodi, as her father and stepfather are local farmers. He said it was a natural flight path to expand into the city, and has been speaking with Dr. Stephanie Bolton of the Lodi Winegrape Commission and wineries such as Michael David.

Bolton and David Phillips, co-owner of Michael David, were unavailable for comment.

If a grower is interested in Aerie Collective’s services, Roush said he and chief pilot Brian Ziolkowski will sit down with them and discuss their needs to flesh out a contract and determine how often they’ll provide their drones.

“We could go in once, and we could go in every two weeks to do some kind of analysis,” Roush said. “It all depends on what the growers need.”

While Roush and Ziolkowski will train growers on the drone, he said more often than not, they will perform the majority of piloting due to liability and Federal Aviation Association rules.

Roush said he can select pilots from a pool of 5,000 across the country to come in and assist growers with their vineyards.

Ultimately, Roush said his goal is to educate prospective clients about the basics of drone technology. Even if local growers decide to use another company in the future, he said at least they will have some knowledge about what kind of drone they want to employ.

He is also planning to hold a major public demonstration and education event in January that the community can attend to learn more about him and the technology.

“We’re getting close to a certain point where people are starting to adapt to drones once they see what they can do,” Roush said. “Drones are going to be the future of technology whether most people want it or not.”

For more information, or to set up a free consultation, email aeriecollectiveco @gmail.com, or visit www.aeriecollective.com. You can also call 916-918-3106.

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