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Michael Ott: Taking Drone Application from the Drawing Board to the Field

Rantizo’s Michael Ott has earned the 2021 Crop Adviser/Entrepreneur Award from the PrecisionAg Awards of Excellence.

Editor’s note: The annual PrecisionAg Awards of Excellence were presented at the inaugural Tech Hub LIVE conference in Des Moines this week. Below we profile Michael Ott, winner of the Crop Adviser/Entrepreneur Award.

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As co-founder of Rantizo, Michael Ott’s successful pursuit of turnkey system for drone-based application has earned him the 2021 Crop Adviser/Entrepreneur Award from the PrecisionAg Awards of Excellence, sponsored by the PrecisionAg Alliance.

Michael Ott

Ott grew up in rural northeastern Iowa, where his family owned a restaurant. The restaurant business was, in some ways, another world from the sophisticated precision ag company he founded many years later. Yet, the lessons he learned there never lost their relevance or value.

“Everyone says, know your customer. In our restaurant, my dad literally knew everyone that was coming in, and many times he knew what they were going to order,” he says. “When you truly know them that well, it’s a great lesson. That’s what we want to do at Rantizo.”

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Keeping that all-important focus on the customer and their needs, Rantizo also cultivated a passion for innovation and constantly improving and optimizing systems to reach their fullest potential.

“We always design things for what a farmer needs versus what we have available. I think that’s a common trap,” he tells PrecisionAg. “I always like to design from first principles: what does the end user need, then how do we make a system from which everybody along the way benefits?”

Michael recognized that agricultural spraying had seen very little innovation over the course of decades. Equipment was simply getting bigger and bigger. Inherently, this bigger equipment poses problems in the field such as crop damage, soil compaction, or the sheer inability to access parts of a field, Emily Carlson, his nominator explains.

“Michael saw a different opportunity and that was to use drones to deliver in-field applications … Precision is the name of the game,” she says.

“He saw what drones could do but weren’t doing in agriculture. I remember our first conversation,” Rantizo’s co-founder, Matt Beckwith says. “I was driving along, and he told me about this idea for drone spraying and how we could improve the way farmers were doing things. We looked at lots of different ways of doing it and then we came upon the idea of spot spraying,” he says, adding, “Michael is a person who just had this ability to see what was in the future, and when I heard him, the lightbulb went off – I knew we were onto something. My instinct to shoot down ideas fell by the wayside.”

Rantizo has since catapulted to industry leader in drone spraying and applications, after becoming the first company approved for drone spraying for agriculture in the state of Iowa in July of 2019. Just a year later, it became the first company approved for nationwide swarming of multiple drones for aerial application. The company is operating in 21 states with more than 50 contractors and will be operating in nearly 300 trial locations this year nationwide. There is plenty of room for growth, he notes.

“People say that drone spraying is the future of ag,” Ott says. “We say the future is already here. Rantizo is in fields flying and applying today.”

Stewardship and sustainability are integral to Rantizo’s drone application systems, as soil health and conservation practices grow by farmers across the country. Rantizo can precisely deliver liquid applications, but just as easily broadcast and interseed cover crop seeds into crops at all stages without crop damage.

“I think there’s value in not doing something,” he points out. “When we’re doing site-specific treatment on a field, we’re treating say, 19 percent of the field that has an insect problem. There’s value in not doing something to 81 percent, because you’re not driving over the field, you’re not causing soil compaction, you’re not running over a crop as you turn around, and you’re not contributing to resistance as you overapply chemicals, and you’re not spending money you don’t need to.”

Where other outfits have tried and failed and where Rantizo has succeeded is in offering a total – and legal – package to the customer. “We’re selling a true turnkey package to ag retailers and custom applicators – literally everything you need to safely and legally use drones in the field for applications: the drone equipment, Rantizo upgrade kit, autonomous chemical mixing equipment, our Load & Go trailer, support, training, and licensing assistance, plus software to streamline both back office and in-field operations,” he explains.

What is the future of farming, as he sees it? “I think the future is hyper-precision. In the past, people have treated fields as one unit … Now we are getting into much smaller portions of the field, even getting down to plant by plant, and that’s going to lead to much larger output overall.”

Rantizo’s success, with Michael at the helm, presents new opportunities for precision agriculture to win, Carlson says: “It yields new ways for ag retailers to provide better and more robust services to their customers, and it provides farmers with new opportunities for profitability in their operations. This success facilitates wider and more open-minded adoption of precision ag practices and technology which benefit the industry, the businesses, the farmer, and the land.”

Under his leadership, the goal for the company is to nurture a motivated team with all the incentives and pieces in place. “We’re still figuring it out and still learning,” he says. “I’m really, really proud of this team. This, in my mind, is a nice team award as well.”

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