Fulton drone company earns crop spraying certification

The Empire Drone Company in Fulton recently received certification from the Federal Aviation Administration, allowing the company to spray crops by drone.

FULTON — The Empire Drone Company in Fulton is set to expand its services to orchards, wineries, and other farmlands.

The company received what’s called a Part 137 certification from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) last month. The certification allows the company to spray crops by drone.

Sean Falconer, a partner in the company with Fulton native John McGraw, said he believes this is a step forward for their business and the area.

“We were thrilled,” Falconer told The Palladium-Times. “It’s a big deal for our company and for central New York as a whole, because drones are big around here and we’re one of the first to bring this spraying technology to the area.”

The drones are flown either autonomously in a grid or manually for spot spraying, and can cover up to 24 acres per hour. The drones maintain a consistent elevation a few feet above the field with the help of onboard radar systems, and the prop-wash effect from the propellers effectively force inputs down and around each plant.

Falconer said the company has helped educate people on drone technology in agricultural settings.

For Falconer, there are many advantages to agricultural spraying with a drone.

The cost is lower because there’s less money involved in the equipment, application and labor, he said. There are also health benefits, since remote spraying reduces an applicator’s exposure to potentially harmful chemicals, he added.

Spraying with a drone also takes less time. Falconer said six acres could take four hours to spray with a tractor, but a drone would only take about 20 minutes.

“Drones are perfect for working with orchards and wineries, because there’s rough terrain and they can get anywhere,” Falconer said.

Falconer and McGraw started their partnership from two other drone-based companies in 2018 and opened up their office in the Canalview Mall last year.

The Empire Drone Company has worked with various organizations in the region — such as Exelon, the Syracuse Fire Department and the Department of the Interior — for a wide range of needs.

For now, the focus is on New York and the surrounding states as the company continues to grow.

“We’ve been rapidly expanding,” Falconer said. “It seems like every day we’re adding a new brand or company to our service offering.”

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