When Allison Donner’s parents Rod and Connie decided it was time to retire in 2006, the now 37-year-old stepped in to buy the family business.
Rod and Connie purchased Cozad-based Mid-State Flying Service in 1975, renamed it Mid-State Aviation II and expanded the business to include selling Cessna agricultural planes and parts.
“I’d always had an interest in ag aviation,” Donner said. “I grew up working in my family business as a kid. I’ve always been in the business.”
She's always been in the business, but not in the air. Donner’s job until she took over the business was managing the Cozad airport.
After taking over Mid-State Aviation, she rapidly grew the business' territory and services. In 2011, Mid-State expanded to Columbus.
“There was nobody in that area at that time,” said Donner. “We’re the only local people that fly out of Columbus. Everybody else comes from out of state.”
The business expanded further to Winner, South Dakota, in 2015 and North Platte the following year.
Donner earned her pilot’s license to keep up with the growth and customer demand.
“It was a decision of me being able to manage locations and get there quickly,” she said. “It was a logistics decision.”
Donner said Mid-State's territory is large enough now to keep the pilots busy.
“We purchased the business in Winner because it’s a completely different crop,” she said. “The crops they spray up there are wheat and pasture, so they’re getting sprayed at completely different times. We’re able to keep our airplanes in the air longer, having a longer season for spray planes.”
They’re approaching cover crop seeding season now, another service that's grown since Mid-State added it in 2007.
In addition to spraying, the business offers aerial photography with options such as thermal imaging, infrared and normalized difference vegetation index, or NDVI, which gives producers data on the health and needs of their crops.
“They can tell by the images if there’s a problem in the field — if it’s low on nitrogen or water, it shows it’s deficient,” said Donner.
Although agricultural drones armed with the same imaging technology are becoming more prevalent, Donner isn't concerned they’ll cut into her business because the capabilities can't match an airplane.
“We cover literally Nebraska, parts of Colorado and parts of Kansas in a few days,” she said. “Whereas drones, they have literally hours of battery life. It’s not comparable to the number of acres we do.”
She’s noticed producers are quicker to adopt new technologies than they used to be, which opens more opportunities for her business.
“The growers are a lot more progressive than they used to be,” Donner said. “They utilize tech a lot more. They’re recognizing that possibly inputting more into their crop can give them higher yields for their crop.”
Mid-State Aviation is based locally at Columbus Municipal Airport. The business can be reached at 402-564-2470 or in Cozad at 308-784-3868.