Citing high demand, GRCC launches drone classes

Kent County

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Once the bare apple trees start to bud at Jeff VanderWerff’s orchard near Sparta, it will be time for takeoff.

“It says we’re ready to fly on GPS,” VanderWerff said Tuesday, showing 24 Hour News 8 the drone he uses in the fields. “This has got the real-time imagery coming back.”

The apple grower started using a drone at his family orchards and grain farm two years ago. VanderWerff said the aerial tool is a huge help in surveying crops and can be a major timesaver.

“Especially with our grain farming operations,” VanderWerff said. “You think about having to go walk an 80-acre field and check for a drowned-out spot. If I can put the drone up in the air, I can find those areas in seconds versus hours.”

VanderWerff is now looking into drones that offer more advanced imagery: cameras that can capture crucial data on what’s happening in the fields.

“A lot of the technology is still being developed, but there’s a lot of promise there,” he said.

Drones aren’t being utilized only by farmers. Workers in construction, real estate and local news — including 24 Hour News 8 — use the devices. Grand Rapids Community College has taken notice.

“We had over 20 calls from individuals in the last six months asking us if we had anything to help prepare them for the FAA drone certification class,” Julie Parks, executive director of workforce training at GRCC, told 24 Hour News 8 Tuesday.

The high demand led the college to add two new classes for the high-flying enthusiasts. Parks said GRCC is the first college in West Michigan to offer this kind of drone training.

“It’s something brand new, it’s interesting,” she said. “It’s changing what’s happening in these (business) fields, and we’re really excited to be a part of that.”

The pilot classes start next week at GRCC and there are some spots still open. You can call 616.234.4000 or visit to learn more.

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