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Entrepreneur’s venture flies high, but remains close to roots

Editor’s Note: This story was written when Zach Sickle was a senior. He earned his bachelor’s degree in agronomy: crop and soil management in 2022.

A drone zipped above a soybean field capturing footage for a crop specialist to analyze and share. Toggling the drone’s controls, Zach Sickle had a bird’s-eye-view of the rolling landscape. His confidence appeared natural, but it took years of work to get to that point.

Sickle is a senior agronomy: crop and soil management major from Greenfield, Indiana, who began experimenting with drones as a hobby in high school. He was drawn in by the new technology and the potential for growth, but he started thinking that drones could be more than a hobby.

“There was a lot of potential and a lot of opportunity to fund myself coming through college,” Sickle said.

Zach Sickle holds a drone Zach Sickle was an early adopter of drone technology. But the senior agronomy major from Greenfield, Indiana, says his first love is agronomy and he wants to focus on farmer needs. Photo by Allison Lund.

There weren’t as many commercial drone operators out there when he began flying them in 2017, so he found that his work was in high demand.

“The market for drone pilots was very small, but it was soon to be filled if I didn’t get into it when I did,” Sickle said.

He found that there were people interested in having aerial video footage for organization videos, as well as farmers who wanted aerial images and videos of their farms. This is where Sickle got his start in the industry.

But Sickle knew that when he switched to using drones to help make money, he would have to fully commit to the hobby and devote a large amount of time. He began his business, ProSight Performance, and he rooted himself in “doing it right.”

“Anybody can create a business, but it’s just how professional you want to make it,” Sickle added. “I’m a very by-the-book, very organized person. It has to be right.”

Doing things right would prove to be difficult, although it would pay off in the long run. Sickle said he desired a top-of-the-line business that looked like it had 2,000 employees keeping it running.

“It was a professional mindset straight from the beginning,” Sickle added. “You had to look the part, play the part, and be the part.”

 

To achieve that professional business, Sickle was pouring money toward that goal, and there was initially no profit. He was designing logos, purchasing more equipment, creating business cards, and investing himself in anything that he thought would make his business stand out.

“There were definitely a lot of nights where I was like, ‘Wow, this is a lot of money – do I want to do this?’, but I would sit and watch YouTube videos of people doing this professionally and it just encouraged me to keep doing it even more,” Sickle said.

Sickle found that watching professionals allowed him to pick up new tricks and find more efficient ways to film and edit videos. With a lot of hard work, Sickle started receiving a steady flow of customers who wanted drone footage of their clubs and organizations. He got there through the help of family, friends, and word-of-mouth.

Around that same time, he was also struggling to find a way to incorporate drone flight classes into his Purdue Agronomy schedule. There is only one class in the agronomy major that features drones, and it prepares students to receive their operator’s license — something Sickle already had. The other drone classes were offered through the Purdue School of Aviation and Transportation Technology. Agronomy was his first love, and he did not want to spend too much time on something that would take him away from that.

At the end of the day, Sickle’s passion was farming.

“Being in agronomy, I wanted to try and stay farmer-oriented and not get skewed by the fancy technology and the shiny sensors,” Sickle said. “It was difficult to keep my eyes on the end goal here… I’ll stick to corn and soybeans and try to help the people that are around me.”

Because of that love for agriculture, Sickle’s business has been evolving, too. These days, he has been focusing on using drones to collect data and for sensing in agriculture. He even incorporated his interest in drones into internships he had with agricultural companies.

Sickle’s experience with Gordon Ag Group stemmed from a curiosity for the company to incorporate drones into its programs. Sickle recognized this interest of drone technology as continued potential for growth, and he found that his experience with the technology helps him feel ahead of the game.

“It just makes me feel really comfortable knowing that I bring a skill that someone who has been in the agronomy industry longer than me may not have,” Sickle said.

As Sickle nears the end of his academic career, he has slowed down his workload as he prepares to begin flying drones full-time for Gordon Ag Group. His drone flights will be used to help perform stand counts, conduct disease pressure analysis, and get an estimate of damage for insurance purposes.

Sickle feels excited to continue to combine his passions of agriculture and drones while having the opportunity to help farmers.

“If you had asked me in kindergarten what I wanted to be, I wanted to be a farmer,” Sickle added. “In high school, I probably would have told you I wanted to be a farmer… my dreams really haven’t changed since I was a kid.”

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