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Illinois farmer Matt Boucher used a drone to scout his winter wheat crop. He found the harsh winter left very little green sprouting. (Courtesy Boucher Farms)
Illinois farmer Matt Boucher used a drone to scout his winter wheat crop. He found the harsh winter left very little green sprouting. (Courtesy Boucher Farms)

Fourth-generation family farmer Matt Boucher took his first unmanned aerial vehicle (what we might commonly refer to as a “drone”) out of its box last Christmas.

Farmers like Boucher see drones as the next popular tech tool for farmers. But the FAA says using drones for commercial use is illegal, until regulators figure out appropriate rules. While researching my story on the drone rules, I found that a bunch of farmers are itching to get their hands on aerial scouts. But what can a farmer actually learn using a personal drone? (Check out video from the scouting mission below)

Boucher has been running test flights over his frozen, snow-covered fields near Dwight, Ill., for months. Now that spring has finally arrived in the Midwest, he’s using the football-sized drone to get the first glimpse of his winter wheat.

“The cold has really affected it,” Boucher said after reviewing the footage. “We knew one field would be ‘iffy’, but by doing a fly-over with an unmanned system, you learn a lot in a hurry.”

Anti-GMO protestors at a 2013 Denver, Colo., rally (File: Luke Runyon/Harvest Public Media)
Anti-GMO protestors at a 2013 Denver, Colo., rally (File: Luke Runyon/Harvest Public Media)

State efforts to label genetically-modified food would be outlawed under a bill unveiled by a Kansas congressman Wednesday – a plan immediately criticized as a “legislative Hail Mary” that won’t pass.

The bill by Rep. Mike Pompeo, a Republican from Wichita, would also bar the Food and Drug Administration from labeling efforts, a move highly popular with consumers, and allow so-called “natural” foods to contain bio-engineered ingredients.  

Backed by grocery and food industry giants, including the Grocery Manufacturers Association, Pompeo said the legislation would set a “federal norm” and prevent the many state ballot initiatives popping up across the country.  

“Some of the campaigns in some of the states aren’t really to inform consumers but rather aimed at scaring them,” Pompeo said. “And so it’s my judgment and what this bill attempts to do is set a standard.”

The Green Plains Energy ethanol plant near Central City, Neb., can produce 100 million gallons of ethanol each year. (File: Grant Gerlock/Harvest Public Media)
The Green Plains Energy ethanol plant near Central City, Neb., can produce 100 million gallons of ethanol each year. (File: Grant Gerlock/Harvest Public Media)

Ethanol advocates made the case for preserving the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) on Tuesday in front of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

Without the RFS, advocates say, the ethanol industry will be quashed – and corn farmers and rural communities will pay the price. But many agricultural economists argue that lowering the ethanol mandate won’t be a huge blow to the rural economy.

There’s no denying that the RFS spurred, and supported, companies looking to create new biofuels. Chemical giant DuPont is currently building a cellulosic ethanol plant in Iowa and Jan Koninckx, the company’s director of global business for biorefineries, told senators at the hearing that the RFS played a big role in the plant’s development.

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