Staff Columnist

Policymakers should find ways to support emerging farm technology

A Rantizo unmanned aerial vehicle sits on the ground near a vineyard at Fireside Winery, 1755 P Avenue, in Marengo, Iowa, on Friday, April 26, 2019. The Iowa City-based company is using UAVs to deliver agrochemicals using an electrostatic sprayer to more efficiently deliver the chemicals onto crops.  (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
A Rantizo unmanned aerial vehicle sits on the ground near a vineyard at Fireside Winery, 1755 P Avenue, in Marengo, Iowa, on Friday, April 26, 2019. The Iowa City-based company is using UAVs to deliver agrochemicals using an electrostatic sprayer to more efficiently deliver the chemicals onto crops. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

Iowa farmers often have been at the forefront of employing automated technology to increase efficiency. Now, that technology is going airborne.

Iowa City-based company Rantizo sells drones and accessories used to spray agrichemicals on field crops. The company recently received a license for aerial pesticide application from the Iowa Department of Agriculture, making it the first company in the state to earn that authorization for drones.

The company’s technology allows farmers to spray targeted areas as a supplement to traditional sprayer vehicles, The Gazette’s Thomas Friestad reported this week.

“Our drone technology had been ready for a few months, we just needed the regulatory landscape to get sorted out,” Rantizo CEO Michael Ott said in a news release. “Building the technology is the easy part.”

We are encouraged to see one company clear its initial regulatory barriers, and expect more companies to join this space soon. Regulators and policymakers should look for ways to support advanced automated farming technology, ensuring the adoption of new tools isn’t hampered or delayed by overbearing government restrictions.

Iowa leaders have a strong record in recent history of facilitating the development and adoption of new technology.

Last year, the state created an Advisory Council on Automated Transportation, which is studying policies that will be needed to govern automated vehicle technology on Iowa roads.

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The University of Iowa’s National Advanced Driving Simulator is a world leader in studying automated transportation. Government officials in both Linn County and Johnson County have taken steps to support their work.

Additionally, state policymakers are emphasizing the need to expand broadband internet access to rural areas. Many new agriculture tools require a wireless connection to transmit data over large areas, but some parts of the state are not well-served by existing network infrastructure.

There’s no reason Iowa policymakers shouldn’t include unmanned aerial vehicles alongside automated ground vehicles and broadband access in their efforts to support new technology.

In addition to spraying, other applications for drones in agriculture include field analysis, crop monitoring, irrigation and even planting. The devices could even be part of the solution to soil erosion and nutrient run-off problems, which have been a major concern for both farmers and environmentalists.

We already are in a new era of farming, transformed by a wide array of promising new technologies. If government leaders can get the regulatory framework right, the sky is the limit.

• Comments: (319) 398-8262; editorial@thegazette.com

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