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Farm Bill top priority, new Idaho Grain Producers leader says

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Matthew Weaver
Kendrick, Idaho, wheat farmer Robert Blair is the Idaho Grain Producers Association president for 2014. Blair, a longtime user of unmanned aerial vehicles on his farm, hopes to see UI receive certification to start using drones in classes and research. Passing a Farm Bill is one of the biggest needs for the wheat industry in 2014, Blair said.

A new farm bill from Congress and university research on agricultural drones are among the top priorities for the new president of the Idaho Grain Producers Association.

Robert Blair, a wheat farmer in Kendrick, Idaho, is the president of the association in 2014. He said a new farm bill is the top priority for wheat in 2014.

“We have to ensure we have a trade safety net, and that’s crop insurance,” he said. “The second priority I see is ensuring we have adequate funding for research. We have to get something set in stone, we cannot just keep kicking the can down the road.”

Blair also said he hopes to get the University of Idaho to apply for a certificate of authorization for drone research. Research projects are already being conducted, he said, but under the certificates for different universities.

He recently told Fox Business News that he has been using drone technology since 2006 for scouting his crops. The drones allow him to see 100 percent of the fields, he said, from a “top-down” view. He’s able to use images taken by the drone to show animal damage to his crops, find weather damage for insurance purposes and determine the crop’s overall health, he said.

Blair would like to see the university create a drone agriculture class. He sees such courses nationwide becoming a large draw for college students.

If the university has a certificate of authorization, it can conduct research and training, Blair said.

“It allows agriculture to move up another level in the next direction, and that’s precision technology,” he said.

John Foltz, dean of the UI College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, thinks it’s worth considering.

The university is researching what would be required, Foltz said. He noted Federal Aviation Administration and Department of Homeland Security certification requirements must be considered.

“Yes, we’re interested, we’re investigating it,” Foltz said. “The sky is the limit, but I think we need to do it appropriately. This is an area we definitively need to look at, but we need to get some input as to what is it they want us to do and what are the rules we have to follow.”

As president of the association and chairman of the research and technology committee for National Association of Wheat Growers, Blair also said his priorities include starting discussions to generate a better road map for the industry’s wants for biotechnology.

“The discussion needs to take place, we can’t just keep covering it up and keeping it hushed,” he said.



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