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TAKING OFF — Delta Group finds ready market for drones

John Montfort Jones tests out one of Delta Group’s “quadcopter” personal drones.

John Montfort Jones tests out one of Delta Group’s “quadcopter” personal drones.

Though its roots go all the way back to the 1920s, Delta Group has shown that it is not afraid to embrace new technology. As example, the company that is best known as a farm equipment dealer began offering precision agriculture products when the high-tech devices first arrived on the market in the 1980s.

Now, Delta Group is at it again, this time offering a high-tech product not commonly associated with agriculture — drones — and the company has been pleasantly surprised that it has found customers both on and off the farm.

“I recently began flying drones personally, and I began getting requests from my buddies to fly over their fields and take pictures,” said John Montfort Jones, marketing director at Delta Group. “So, about six months ago I suggested that we start selling drones so they could photograph their fields themselves.”

The personal drones Delta Group offers are manufactured by DJI, and are “quadcopters” — mini helicopter-like aerial vehicles that are remotely controlled from the ground. The systems feature four rotors that make them highly maneuverable and “a joy to fly,” according to Jones.

Jones said the quadcopter system is one of the most popular unmanned aerial vehicles on the market because of their reputation for being low maintenance. Also, many models allow for live video streaming from the camera during flight to the operator’s smartphone or tablet.

While Delta Group expected to find farmers who would be eager to utilize the new technology, the company has watched sales soar among those who are interested in purchasing and flying the unmanned aerial vehicles just for the pure fun of it.

“Since the quadcopters are recreational items, we’re getting a mix of non-farmers and farmers coming in to make purchases,” Jones said, adding that it has widened the company’s customer base.

Innovation is old hat for Delta Group. In fact, changing with the times, finding new products and customers to buy them, is the largest part of the history of the company.

The company was founded by James Hand Jr. and J.B. Gibbs, who were successful partners in a sawmill and a chain of general stores before establishing a hardware store in Rolling Fork in 1924.

Seeing a future in mechanized agriculture, Hand and Gibbs approached International Harvester about opening a local dealership. Bringing in former IH employee Jere Nash Sr., the three men founded Delta Implement Company in 1926 — the same year that development began on the first mechanized cotton picker.

Despite the novelty of the machines and severe challenges such as the Great Flood of 1927 and the Great Depression, the company flourished. Through acquisitions (Planters Equipment Company in 1934 and Miss-Lou Equipment Company in 1955), numerous openings of new dealerships and a merger with The Ayers Company (1987), Delta Implement Company grew both in the number of locations and employees. (All of the locations began operating under the Delta Group name in 2012.)

Today, the company has approximately 150 employees on the payroll, and has operations in Leland, Yazoo City, Belzoni, Greenwood, Cleveland and Rolling Fork. It sells and supports a full line of new farm equipment from Case IH, Kubota, Bush Hog, Great Plains and over 20 other leading manufacturers in addition to offering parts and service (including after-hours service), used farm equipment and dirt-moving machines.

Delta Group carries precision agriculture products from manufacturers such as Trimble, Case IH, Ag Leader and others.

In addition to selling the DJI quadcopters, Delta Group pre-assembles and tests all of the units before they are sold to be sure they are ready to fly. The company also offers on-site instruction on how to operate the drones as well as both replacement parts and service.

Delta Group is still mulling its future plans for its new drone products. If history holds, it will be out front.

“We are kind of just going with it right now, to be honest with you,” Jones said. “Right now, we’re focused on keeping up with the demand.”

For more on Delta Group and all its products and services, visit its website at www.delta-grp.com.

About Wally Northway

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