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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
As she pushed a button to bring the eight-propeller drone back to the ground, dandelion fluff swirling in the air, U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst joked that she was ready for a job as a commercial fertilizer applicator.
“Do you have a contract you need to fulfill?” she asked Michael Ott, chief executive officer and founder of Rantizo, an agricultural drone company based just outside Iowa City.
Ernst tried her hand Wednesday at the remote-control drone, programmed to dispense fertilizer — in this demonstration, water — onto a field with high precision. The drones can save farmers money because they aren’t applying excess chemicals and the process also reduces fertilizer runoff into streams and lakes, Ott explained.
Ernst also toured Rantizo’s new headquarters in Iowa City. The company, started in 2018, announced in December it had raised $7.5 million in investments to fuel the expansion. The Iowa Economic Development Authority also gave Rantizo a $46,720 tax credit for the project, which was to result in six new jobs, as part of the state’s High Quality Jobs program. The Johnson County Board of Supervisors matched the state funding.
“As we’re talking about water quality and soil health and air quality, this is one way to apply chemicals and fertilizers as necessary with precision, not overdoing it,” Ernst said. “So we want to make sure we’re pushing out this type of technology and being supportive of the needs of the business community. I think it’s a smart thing to do.”
Among Ernst’s Senate committee assignments are Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry and Small Business Administration.
Rantizo sells most of its drones, which can dispense liquid sprays or dry ingredients, such as cover crop seeds, to ag retailers. Those firms then offer the drone services to farmers in their areas. The octocopter Ernst flew in the demonstration weighs 54 pounds, just under the maximum weight a drone can be in the United States.
The Rantizo visit was one of five Eastern Iowa stops the Republican senator made Wednesday as part of her annual 99-county tour. She also visited Full Circle Services in Independence, Hills and Dales in Dubuque, and Jackson Manufacturing in Maquoketa. After leaving Iowa City, she was scheduled to speak at the Central Lee FFA banquet, in Donnellson, Wednesday evening.
She said Full Circle Services is a behavioral health organization, “something I’m really interested in” and Hills and Dales provides care for children with complex medical needs.
Ernst also mentioned a visit Tuesday to a Cerro Gordo County hemp farm. Owners Greg Nicholas Sr. and Greg Nicholas Jr. emphasized how stressful it can be growing a crop that doesn’t have too much tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. Farmers with too much THC, or a “hot crop,” can face negligent violations.
“It was fascinating to understand some of the challenges they’ve had, the products that are being developed from that hemp,” Ernst said Wednesday. “I really enjoyed that. That’s new to me.”
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