Don Nelson, center, accepts a ceremonial check from VCEDA Executive Director/General Counsel Jonathan Belcher representing the seed capital matching grant he his wife, Cheryl Nelson, received for their new business, Remote Agri Drone. Also pictured are, from left, Margie Douglass, director of the Small Business Assistance Center at Southwest Virginia Community College; Cheryl Nelson; Don Nelson; Belcher and Pam Warden, Tazewell County economic development manager.

CEDAR BLUFF, VA – November 9, 2018 Crop dusting has taken a step into the 21st Century with the application of drone technology which Don and Cheryl Nelson are bringing to Southwest Virginia through their new business, Remote Agri Drone LLC.

The Nelsons’ new business was recently selected as a recipient of a $10,000 Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority (VCEDA) seed capital matching grant.

Remote Agri Drone, based in Cedar Bluff, in Tazewell County, offers agricultural spraying services for controlling plant and brush vegetation, as well as drone services for plant fertilization and soil analysis. By outfitting the drone with cameras, they can also be used in pipeline inspection, electrical power tower/insulators inspection and bridge and structure inspection. Other aerial photography, mapping, surveying and search and rescue services are also available.

“Remote Agri Drone’s business model fit perfectly with VCEDA’s emphasis on locating businesses in the emerging technology field in the coalfield region,” said VCEDA Executive Director/General Counsel Jonathan Belcher. “VCEDA added drones as one of our target industries for development in the region in 2015. Remote Agri Drone is among the first of these type businesses to locate in our region, so VCEDA was pleased to provide this assistance to this new small business.”

The Nelsons worked with Margie Douglass, director of the Small Business Development Center at Southwest Virginia Community College, to prepare the seed capital matching grant application to VCEDA.

Don Nelson notes the need in Southwest Virginia for agricultural spraying services is present. With a drone versus a helicopter or bi-plane spray, the advantage is the ability to refine, control and better direct the spray to targeted areas since the drone can fly much lower than other aircraft.

“The VCEDA seed capital matching grant will enable me to purchase another drone and camera bundle to enable us to expand our business further,” Nelson says.

He recently met with Natural Resource Conservation Services officials, as well as the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, and has had conversations with both about mapping. Perhaps one of the best applications for the drone, however, he says will be the spraying of fields with liquid calcium which like lime changes the pH level of soil and makes it more conducive to plant growth. Testing in the agriculture field is underway now looking at the benefits of liquid calcium applications, which he says could further grow the business in the future.

Nelson says he has done some spraying with the drone on a test basis for practice, using water to find the ratio of speed per acre application. It’s not all just about buying a drone and launching it.

Nelson earned his drone pilot license this past spring. He completed drone technology courses at Southwest Virginia Community College. He also holds an associate degree in electronics from SWCC and is working now on the second part of his licensing from VADACS.

Getting the drone to fly where he wants involves programming it and the use of a computer which sets up the drone flight path based on the parameters given to it by the operator.

“We are the first business to ask the Charleston FAA to do this,” Nelson says of using the drone for agricultural spray projects.

Just last week, he did a demonstration for farmers at a pasture and grazing seminar held in Thompson Valley in Tazewell.

When asked why he chose to get in the drone business and to pursue it from the agricultural standpoint,  Nelson says his research had shown that farmland was being lost at the rate of 3,000 acres per year due to brush and weeds. If not addressed, based on rising U.S. population, it could mean food shortages by 2025, he adds.

“If I can help recover acreage, that’s the goal,” he says.

Nelson grew up in Tazewell County and opening the business in Tazewell County, he says was important to both him and to his wife. Cheryl works at SWCC and Don is retired from Norfolk Southern Railroad whether he was an electronics specialist, signal tester and signal maintainer. He has also operated a metal and fabrication shop post retirement before deciding to expand into the field of drone usage.

The business projects two full-time and two part-time jobs within three years. The company also plans to utilize local college students in search of summer employment.

About Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority and Virginia’s e-Region: The Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority, created by the Virginia General Assembly in 1988 to enhance and diversify the region’s economy and help create jobs, markets Virginia’s e-Region and its focus on electronic information technology, energy, education, emerging technologies, and entrepreneurship. VCEDA is a unique economic development organization that manages funds for economic development projects from a percentage of the coal and natural gas severance taxes paid by coal and natural gas companies that operate in the region. Located in southwestern Virginia, the region includes Buchanan, Dickenson, Lee, Russell, Scott, Tazewell, and Wise counties and the City of Norton. www.vaceda.org or www.e-Region.org.

About the Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority Seed Capital Matching Grant Fund: VCEDA region for-profit businesses one year and under with less than 10 full-time employees are eligible to apply for dollar-for-dollar matching grants up to $10,000 from the VCEDA Seed Capital Matching Fund. Applicants work with the Small Business Development Centers at Mountain Empire and Southwest Virginia community colleges to prepare the applications to VCEDA that include detailed business and financial plans. Businesses must be located in or plan to operate in the VCEDA region in southwestern Virginia that includes Buchanan, Dickenson, Lee, Russell, Scott, Tazewell, and Wise counties and the City of Norton.