Thursday, October 9, 2014


From horses to drones. Idaho farmer Robert Blairtalks elks, surgical agriculture, and the future of farming. 
Top left: My grandfather Reinhard Wilken plowing with horses in the 1920s, Top right: Cletrac with a bean cultivator on front in the1930s, Middle right: My mother Marga Wilken Blair on a Farmall M cultivating beans in the 1950s, Bottom right: Robert Blair on a Case 2470 disking pea ground in the 1970s, Bottom left: Dillon Blair harrowing stubble ground with a John Deere 8520T in 2010, Middle: My son Logan Blair with a hexacopter in 2013. Image from Robert Blair.
There are very few points in time when a person can help influence the future of an industry they love. Agriculture is my industry. Technology advancements such as John Deere’s plow, McCormick’s reaper, Eli Whitney’s cotton gin from the industrial revolution, and Norman Borlaug’s breeding techniques that started the green revolution, are the foundation of today’s agriculture.
Today we are in the information age and Unmanned Air Systems (UAS) are another such advancement that can positively impact agriculture. The ability to capture information to help farmers and ranchers better understand their operations to make more informed management decisions is a reality.
Our farm was founded in 1903, the same year the Wright Brothers had the first successful powered flight. One hundred years later I have tractors that drive themselves, the capability to properly apply inputs to specific areas, and eyes in the sky to assist in monitoring the crops during the growing system. As the old advertisement stated, “We’ve come a long way baby.”
My precision agriculture journey began in 2003 by using a PDA (handeld digital device) with a wire connected to a small GPS receiver to do simple mapping. Now we use our smart phones with built in GPS and apps that are way more complex, user friendly, and functional to not only gather data but to control irrigation systems remotely.
This has two pictures of the same thing; the one on the right is the original RGB image and the one on the left has had false color added to it to stand out. The white arrows are the same areas in each picture and point to a 45 foot wide block where the fertilizer machine was turned on/turned off properly. I used this for management/instruction purposes.  The black arrows point to a steep area that is very shallow, rocky ground that doesn’t produce well no matter what management is done to it. The red circle shows an area where the dark green in the RGB corresponds to the light blue where nitrogen levels were good coming out of winter. The green, red, and dark blue in the image on the left corresponds with the yellow, light green, and brownish color on the right image where more nitrogen is needed.
Image from Robert Blair
In 2004 I put a yield monitor onto the combine. It's made up of a computer in the cab with different sensors situated in and around the machine to collect elevation, temperature, crop moisture, on-the-go yield, etc. This is great information, but it is reactive data. That means the crop has matured to be harvested and there is nothing more I can do to affect the outcome of the growing season.
I took precision agriculture to new heights in 2006 by becoming the first farmer in the US to own and use a UAS. Just like my early precision ag journey, there were many rocky roads to traverse and lessons to be learned. It’s tough being on the “bleeding” edge of industry.
With the advancements of UAS and other agriculture technology we have surpassed precision agriculture and are now in the early stages of surgical agriculture. What I mean is, through advancements in technology we can do an even better job of managing our soils, crops, and other resources to more precise levels.

To be as good as our fathers we must be better, imitation is not discipleship.
~ Wendell Phillips
Elk Damage in Peas – The arrows point to depression in the peas where elk laid down. You can also see the trails going all direction through the crop along with the seed rows of peas.
UAS change the game drastically. They can collect data throughout the growing season so management decision can be made on when to water (I am a dryland farmer and rely strictly on rain), fertilizer needs in certain areas, weed problems that need to be treated, or other anomalies that show up. The best part is that I now have coordinates to physically check targeted areas, and this makes better use of my time.
However, a UAS is only as good as the other precision ag equipment on the farm. If there are no computers on the tractors or controllers on the equipment, the UAS data collected is just good general information with no directed purpose…pretty pictures. Also, without the yield monitor, images taken during the growing season cannot be quantified to know how good our management strategy was.
I have used the data gathered by UAS for multiple things such as showing wildlife damage in crops, seeing how far the nutrients from cow manure travel from winter feeding areas, spotting pest areas, and for management lessons on operating equipment properly. Basically, I want to gather as much data as possible so when the time comes that new software and systems have been developed I have many years of historic data to show the path forward.
To be successful, agriculture and our urban cousins need to quit pointing fingers and work together. Farmers and ranchers are sustainable and we can use technology to not only prove it, but to make it better. But we need help from the business industry outside of our sandbox to create technologies and solutions centered on the vast agronomic knowledge farmers have gained from years of working and loving the land.
Me with a UAV I designed and built. It is five feet long, has a nine-foot wing span, and weighs roughly seven pounds with batteries and cameras.
UAS is a natural evolution in agriculture’s story, and it can help our industry responsibly meet the tremendous challenge of feeding nine billion people by the year 2050. Farmland is being consumed by people to live on. Water use is becoming restricted. Resources are depleting. Precision Agriculture Technology and UAS will play a major role in agriculture being successful. But, we need help from outside our industry.
Oh, one more thing; farmers are young at heart and just big kids still playing in the dirt…only with bigger toys and now UAS!

– Robert Blair is a fourth generation farmer from north central Idaho managing 1,500 dryland acres of wheat, barley, peas, lentils, chickpeas, alfalfa, and cows. The farm is situated on the edge of the rolling hills of the Palouse and not far from his Alma Mater the University of Idaho where he received his B.S. in Agriculture Business. Robert is also the current president of the Idaho Grain Producers Association, past chairman of the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) Research & Tech Committee, and chairman of the US Wheat/(NAWG) Joint Biotech Committee.

Monday, September 22, 2014


Agriculture is a very noble profession whose population goes unheralded and most times unnoticed. The farmers and ranchers that make up this demographic are not looking for accolades. They just want to do their job the best they know how on the land they love.

In publications that I have looked at over the years, farmers and ranchers have a public trust rating of roughly eighty percent. One of the few people higher than them is their wives. The people that ensure there is plenty to eat without fear is still looked on favorably with our urban cousins.

I wonder, if farmers and ranchers are so trustworthy, why don’t they have representation on different committees that are working to make rules and policy in agriculture?

About a month ago I saw a post on Facebook that brought to my awareness the first annual New York Times Food for Tomorrow conference. The title of the conference is “Farm Better. Eat Better. Feed the World.” Great, where do I sign up?

However, farmers are not welcome! Do you know what a “C-suite executive is?”

I didn’t either; I had to do a web search for it. It turns out that it refers to executives of companies whose title begins with a “C” such as CEO, CFO, etc. Well this seems great; farmers should be able to tell their story to the power brokers of multimillion dollar companies that can have influence on the public.

However, farmers are not on the agenda!

I’m sure that the 200 plus experts that were invited will be able to use their expertise to help make sensible headway into issues that agriculture is trying to deal with. I’m sure that these invited experts such as “chefs, researchers, N.G.O. (Non Government Organization) leaders, and important thinkers” will solve our problems.

Where are the farmers?

I wrote both a letter to the NY Times addressing this conference and sent an email to the organizers trying to figure out how solutions can be vetted without a farmer presence. In almost a month I still have no reply from either.

If farmers and ranchers have about an 80% trust level with the public you would think their representation at this conference would be valued. NOPE!

This trend is happening everyplace agriculture should have a seat at the table. On another FB post I saw another meeting, this time by a more credible organization, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The meeting is titled “The International Symposium on Agroecology for Food and Nutrition Security.”

Not only did they develop a brand new term that farmers and ranchers will have to deal with (Agroecology) but they also designated this as “scientific” to keep real agriculture from having representation.

This is an elite club of anti-agriculture-as-we-know-it club having a small get together in Rome. What’s even more interesting is the person representing the greatest force in global agriculture, the United States, is a doctor from the University of California at San Francisco.

U.S. agriculture should really be pleased with our selected representative.

On a topic more close to me is the absence of agriculture representation for commercial UAS (Unmanned Air Systems) members to make rules. I have been advocating for a seat at the FAA table since 2007 and there is still representation.

All of this is very concerning to me and definitely should be to you!

I won’t go so far as calling the lack of farmers and ranchers at agriculture meetings designed to find solutions to problems a conspiracy, but I’m close. In researching items for this article I did realize we’ve been hijacked though.

Not only is the population of farmers and ranchers dwindling but our name and profession is being systematically wiped out electronically. The images of fuzzy bunnies and twitter birds flying around a Matilda looking lass holding a bunch of carrots or a John Denver-esque hippie dude in overalls and a couple of critters in the background is what you find.

The majority of the public adores us and our profession. We are looked upon as being an extension of our
forefathers in being rugged and roughing it. We represent hard work and clean living. The word “resiliency” should have a picture of someone in agriculture beside it in the dictionary.

However, we’ve faltered. Agriculture has turned a blind eye to standing up for ourselves. We find all kinds of excuses to why we won’t find the time to be proactive, utilize social media, and or serve as a volunteer for an organization.

Yes, the world will still need food. Yes, we have the expertise to grow it well and responsibly. But do you have the backbone to demand the change to have a seat at the table that we tout so much as to filling with our commodities? It's time for you to get up so agriculture can sit!

Monday, August 11, 2014


For every action taken there are consequences. Yesterday, and I’m sure more days to come, we in north central Idaho will be experiencing the consequences…POOR LAND MANAGEMENT!

As you can tell by the pictures the air quality isn’t good. At harvest time there is dust in the air, usually in the evening but by morning it is cleared out. Not the case with wildfire smoke being held in by a weather system change.

The cause for the smoke…lighting activated fires in public lands. The same public lands that are poorly mismanaged by environmental activist driven liberal policies whose demographics are in the rural regions of L.A., San Francisco, New York City, Chicago, Boston, etc.

Are you getting the picture or is it too smoky to see through?

For years the environmental activist organizations and zealots have preyed on the emotions of city folk to “have passion for mother earth and care for the land” by sending a $10 or more donation to stop logging.

And Liberal lawmakers like Diane Feinstein are leading the charge. I wonder if she is out camping in a tent in our area to experience the fruits of her labor?

By not allowing logging to take place on public lands to remove dead trees, make clearings to help stop fires, and to manage the land has made for one heck of a fuel supply that we are inhaling and will be for weeks.

Senator Dianne Feinstein and her Husband Richard Blum have purchased a new home for 16.5 Million at the corner of Lyon and Vallejo st in San Francisco.
I’m sure that Senator Feinstein, her cronies in Congress, and the liberals and activists that support these poor policies make sure that their yards are watered and beautiful. I’m sure that after the lawn is mowed and weeds are pulled the refuse doesn’t just stay there. Why is my back yard any different?

Why should public lands be any different? Why can’t our government utilize the sale of the trees to help take some pressure off of us tax payers in more ways than one?

The answer is definitely clearer than the smoke invested air I am seeing and breathing…BIG MONEY!

Over $2 trillion is spent annually worldwide on environmental activism. Do you think these bloated back east elected officials care about me and my family in a town of 369 people in north central Idaho? Or do you think they care about the bundles of dollars their rich activist friends with townhouses in Manhattan think?

Not only do we need to clear the air on this issue, but we need to clean house. We need better policies that actually work regarding public land management. We need common sense policies instead of the kind driven by activist monies.

I’m sure that there is concern on the other side’s part to care for the environment and those that live in it…just not us humans that pay their way. Maybe if I was a three horned snail darter or painted lady toad strangler they would pay attention to my plea. It's down right unAmerican!  

Friday, May 23, 2014


This post isn't about me so don't get your panties in a wad. Also, if I caused you to have bad visions in your head or nightmares with the title...that's your fault. Hey society today doesn't believe in self accountability.

I didn't know how prophetic the image on the right would be when I posted it on Rhonda's Facebook wall yesterday. With the challenges she is going through I thought it would brighten her day and it did. 

We parted ways as usual in the morning but we were excited for a special day. I would pick her up from the Juliaetta Elementary school and proceed to the Quality Inn at Clarkston, Washington for a luncheon to honor area Valedictorians/Salutatorians. It was SUPPOSED to be Dillon's day.

We had a stop to make before the event and that was to look at different landscaping rock. I have this bright idea that I can start and complete a project on the farm before Dillon's graduation party while doing farm work, helping Rhonda, and having a meeting thrown in. I love pressure.

Then Rhonda's phone rang on the way to look a the rock. It was a call from a doctor. The good news is that surgery dates can be set, the bad news is one of them is May 30th which is Dillon's graduation party and the other is July 3rd. As she ended the call (you don't hang up a cell phone) the tears began.

I'm thinking to myself "OK Robert, let her get some of it out and don't screw things up and make it worse." We were almost there and she pulled them puppies up with a look of determination.

I drove through the lot to find the rock piles and we saw what we wanted...fractured rainbow rock. We both loved the colors and thought it would go well in the area we wanted it in. 

Onward and forward to the luncheon.

Rhonda needed to talk. The more she thought about it the farther she leaned towards the 30th. She joked that I would have to place a faux Rhonda in the chair at graduation. I said that would be  easy, I would just get a blowup doll. Great, I got her laughing and the tears were from that instead of sorrow. 
Pulling them up even tighter now.

It was a great event and it was good to see people there that we knew. The four Kendrick kids were sitting together and we hurried to get a table (in the back so I can people watch and take pictures).

Afterwards, we congratulated kids and parents then headed to Home Depot and URM to shop for project supplies and party supplies.Stop for petrol and on to work and home. On the way we made another joke about the blowup doll being a stuck. It will be the R n R...Rhonda Replacement.

Rhonda stayed at the school to catch up on work and wait for Logan while Dillon and I received the load of rock. Mission: Finish before Rhonda comes home! Five yard of rock doesn't seem like much but when you are trying to sling it around it's like a never ending gobstopper. Baby scoop to the rescue. I used it to do the major spreading and then it was shovel and rake. Mission accomplished.

I was mowing the windbreak and Dillon was raking grass when Rhonda came home. I finished my pass and drove to meet her by the pump house. 
She definitely had a sparkle in her eye and a smile on her face.It looked awesome and Dillon, Logan and I reveled in her happiness.

Then it was time to pull them panties up a little more.

We broke the news to Dillon and Logan that Rhonda will have surgery on May 30th...the day planned for Dillon's graduation party. We will have to cancel it for that day, but we will have one. Probably on July 4th, multiple celebrations.

Pull them up even higher and tighter...Rhonda will miss Dillon's graduation.

When we put things into perspective, it is more important to have Rhonda around longer than just one party or event...even if that is a big day for her first born. As parents, our focus has always been on our boys with no equivocation. They are the center of our life.

While this does break our hearts we know that God has a plan and it is not always for us to see or understand at times. We are both sure that the understanding will come. For now we need to focus on Rhonda and her being successful.

That was Thursday, May 22nd exactly one month to the day when we learned of the news about Rhonda having cancer. Today we head to Spokane for an MRI to help the doctors make sure that the proposed surgery is what is needed and nothing more.

So grab a cup of coffee, put on them big girl panties and face life with a sparkle in your eye and a smile on your face. There are always people with more and bigger problems out there and we are very fortunate to have caught this early and for the tremendous support Rhonda and our family has received.

Besides, I might just have a replacement sitting next to me at graduation with an amazed look on her face wearing nothing but panties. Probably not, but maybe that's an image you can work up in your mind and have a laugh at today.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014


It's amazing how one simple word can change your life and perspective. Cancer is one of those words.

Life just can't stop in mid stream. Since Rhonda was diagnosed with breast cancer in April many things have taken place. All of the seed is in the ground which is a great feeling. Dillon and I traveled back to Hartford, CT for a scholarship interview that he was successful on, and of course Rhonda had more tests.

The mental toll that takes places is indescribable. Not only for Rhonda, but for the whole family. Is there more cancer? What procedure should I do? Lumpectomy or Mastectomy? Am I letting everyone down? What about financial issues? The list goes on and on.

There is good news and hope...BREAST SUPPORTERS! Yeah, this is tongue in cheek but you can either laugh or cry. Rhonda and I are both ones that find sadistic humor in many situations. I've tried to make up words to go with BRA but I haven't had any luck. Maybe - Blair, Rhonda Activists! It just seems a little limp and danglely.

While Hillary Clinton said "It takes a village," we are finding out "IT TAKES A COMMUNITY and/or FAMILY." What we discovered is how large that community/family really is. It is global! The support from friends, co-workers, and even strangers has just been too amazing to describe at times. Overwhelming is a good word.

Back Row L to R: Emily Fredenburg, Jackie Kohler, Vickie Witt, Rose Norris
Middle Row: Heather Anderson, Rob Hoffman, Connie Reid, Dr. Park, Angie Tweit, Dawn Quigley, Suzanne Brammer,
Tracy Cooper, Shannon Heath, Morgan Heier, Chelsea Henson, Denise Silflow
Front Row: Melissa Eichner, Kandy Mccleese, Kim Cirka, Jan Patterson, Angie Cannon, Connie Hedler, Jessica Clemenhagen. Front & Center: Rhonda Blair
My last blog was about "Pink Tractors" which was done right after Rhonda's initial visit with two cancer specialists. We picked up a T-shirt with a pink tractor on it for breast cancer support. After I posted, the comments and support that came in was mind blowing.

Rhonda and I joked the day she wore it to work that there needs to be a special day for Ta Ta Tuesday. Well, it stuck and with her telling that story to the staff at the grade school which led to the main reason for this blog.

Without Rhonda's knowledge they designed and ordered T-shirts. Now I like wearing pink. So does Logan and to some extent Dillon. But Rhonda....loathes the color. Being an athlete she associated pink with things over the top feminine. I get it, it's kind of like Chevy or Ford, you have your favorite.

So last Tuesday May 13th the BREAST SUPPORTERS sprung their surprise on her. Pink T-shirts with black ribbons on the front...and they know she doesn't like pink which makes it funny. The special part was on the back...TEAM RHONDA!

Rhonda called me to tell the story and it brought tears to my eyes. A small community is like a family. Most of the time life goes normal but there are times of arguments, jealousy, etc. Kind of like the petty stuff that takes place with siblings that makes parents go crazy. But like a family, when the chips are down, the wagons are circled, and they stick together. Rhonda's co-workers at the Juliaetta Grade school have been the BEST BREAST SUPPORTERS ever.

Rhonda is a "newbie" in the community. Now that I think about it, it's been over 20 years. However, I grew up here and know many of the staff from years gone past. My sixth grade teacher, Emily Fredenburg is still there. A classmate from the class of 1987, Angie (Hoisington) Cannon is a teacher and was the only one who signed my yearbook when I changed schools. A member from church who had kids a few years younger than me, Vickie Witt works there. Connie (Groseclose) Hedler was a cheerleader when I was in grade school and a mother when I was an AAU basketball coach to her son and my brother. My high school English teacher Suzanne Brammer. Dawn Quigley who's first year teaching second grade was when I was in third. Watching Chelsea Henson, Tracy Cooper and Jessica (Silflow) Clemenhagen grow up. Melissa Eichner whose husband farms and I coached her son in AAU. Kim Cirka who's son and Dillon were close high school friends. Denise Silflow who I like to tease when I go to The Dubliner in Washington, D.C. Angie Tweit who we have spent many a year together toting our sons back and forth from kindergarten to state basketball. There is a long, intertwined history with most people in a small community. GREAT BREAST SUPPORTERS!

Like I stated earlier we found out we have a large family/community. Support rolled in from around the world. Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, England, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Canada, Romania, Ireland, and all around the U.S. Many have been to our farm or we have visited them. These folks are also GREAT BREAST SUPPORTERS!

Then yesterday Rhonda received a card signed by people (I should use the word friends) in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. My life has been intertwined with many of them through different capacities. What made this special to both Rhonda and I was the word "FAMILY" on the return address.

Yes, we are a family. Small communities, the CALS family, The Eisenhower Fellowship network, Idaho Grain Producers Association, the National Association of Wheat Growers, and the Nuffield Scholars network are more than ever a part of our life and family.

I am reminded of a joke my father told me many, many years ago (he wasn't the most PC or diplomatic person mind you). "What is the strongest thing in the world? A brassiere, it holds up two milk factories." Now you understand my tongue in cheek title BREAST SUPPORTERS, THEY DEFINITELY ARE STRONG!

We call them Ta Tas, melons, knockers, headlights, gazingas, etc. Many jokes have been made about Dolly Parton's "endowed figure." Whatever we call them and no matter what jokes are made, it has definitely provided a different perspective of "the girls." But one things is certain, no matter what procedure Rhonda decides on "TEAM RHONDA" WILL WIN! Why??? She has amazing BREAST SUPPORTERS in her life!

Wednesday, April 30, 2014


April 7th, 2014 is a day that Rhonda and I will never forget. It was a Sunday and I was busy getting clothes ready to head to Washington, D.C. for the National Wheat Improvement Committee/National Association of Wheat Growers Research Fly-in.

Rhonda and I were sitting on the couch in the office (we have a separate building that serves as office, man cave, dog house for the times I'm in trouble, In-law storage, visitor retreat, etc.) where I stay the night so I don't wake the family up at 2-2:30 am to catch my flight.

"Robert, could you feel my breast? I think I have a lump" Rhonda said. Now as a guy I would normally be excited and happy to oblige to such a request...but this was definitely different. My heart rate increased, I was getting sweaty, and I was nervous...similar to younger days but in a completely different way.

I felt the "LUMP."

"Rhonda, you need to get that looked at. It might be nothing but it should be checked out." The timing couldn't have been worse for either of us, we were parting at a time of need for each other.

I left for DC Monday and didn't get back home until Thursday while Rhonda visited the doctor. We were both continuing on with what we needed to do professionally, but our minds had other things on them definitely that week.

The second week, things moved fast as well. On the 15th she had an appointment for a mammogram and her friend Dianne went with her. After that visit she went back on that Thursday the 17th for a biopsy with support from Dianne and her friend Jaime. That started the long wait.

I know my blog handle is "The Unmanned Farmer" and should deal mainly with UAVs and this story does have a UAV portion to it.

Tuesday, April 22nd is another date I won't forget. I had a reporter up from the Lewiston Morning Tribune doing a story on my use of UAVs. It was raining so we couldn't actually fly which was a bummer. However, standing around in the shop with the UAVs set up and doing the interview the phone rang.

I looked at the caller ID and it was the grade school. Oh, Rhonda is calling for something............

My heart dropped and my breath was completely taken away, she was crying uncontrollably and I knew she was hurt. The frightening part was I knew why. After getting her to calm down a little she told me she had to go to the doctor that day at 2 pm and would I go? Farming, UAVs, or anything else in the world didn't matter and I was not going to let her down.

I hung up the phone and still had an interview to do. Stay professional, carry on as if nothing happened, get through this with all costs and as normally as possible.

During our reminiscing about this quick journey I would equate my reactions that day to President George W. Bush being informed of the Twin Towers being attacked. I'm sure the shocked showed initially, but you needed to get through the current job as quickly and professionally as possible to not alarm others so that you can deal with the situation.

Farmers deal with tough situations every year, especially if they raise animals. Farmers pull on their years of knowledge and experience to identify the problem, quickly analyze it, and then take a course of action. This all happens in the blink of an eye usually. I could not use my skills as a farmer to solve the problem of someone I truly love hurting over the phone. I could not reach out to provide a comforting touch or reassuring embrace. And I still had the interview to do.

That day we met with the doctor and received the news that Rhonda has Breast Cancer confirming our fears.

Since then we had a visitor from Australia who took our mind off of things for a couple of days. Simon Mattsson is a sugarcane farmer from Australia and a Nuffield Scholar. Also, our church had a service dedicated to the seniors of the high school.

Monday and Tuesday Rhonda met with two great doctors to (As Paul Harvey would say) get the rest of the story and plan a course of action.

Things have moved very fast in less than a month, even to the amazement of the doctors. Support has been great and having some answers to the unknowns has been a relief. There are still tests to be done and more unknowns, but there is HOPE! God's hand has definitely been there in many different ways but that is a different story and should and probably told by Rhonda.

Now to the Pink Tractor. As Rhonda was checking in to her first appointment Monday, I saw a young nurse in the facility with a black shirt with a pink tractor...I NEED TO GET ONE FOR RHONDA is all I could think. I called a couple of people that I know and there was one waiting for us at Farm Credit Services Northwest in Spokane .

If there is one color Rhonda loathes it is pink! However, since it is on a tractor she could handle it and wear the shirt.

Our spirits are up and our family is dealing with it well. Rhonda and I cannot say thank you enough to all of the support that has been there from friends and strangers. It truly is amazing and has turned this crisis into more of a mission of hope and determination.

I am certain that this will not be the last post I will write on this journey or subject and there are definitely better stories that can be told from this month of shock and discovery but I will leave that up to best friend, partner, soul mate, and wife Rhonda. Maybe for Mother's Day I will give her a pink tractor to drive.

As a note of recognition and thanks we want to thank Northwest Farm Credit Services for their recognition and support for Breast Cancer! Rhonda and I both hope that you and your friends will take time and be more aware of this cause.

Thursday, January 9, 2014


The year of 2013 had a very interesting conclusion for me. There was an Associated Press story I was in that went around the world. It was pretty exciting to follow how far this went and where. The changes in the headlines were just as interesting. As of today this story is still running and the pictures that Rhonda and I offered to the AP are being used as well.

Because of that story I was asked to be on Fox Business News. Not only yes, but heck yeah! Another forum to tell the amazing story of a promising technology for agriculture. What a way to kick off a new year.

Unfortunately the story I really wanted to tell did not happen. Agriculture is being neglected by the Federal Aviation Administration. The FAA is supposed to have rules for commercial UAV use out by 2015 as mandated by Congress, however production agriculture doesn't have a seat at the table.

In 2008 I filed a petition to the FAA to have agriculture obtain a seat at the table. I was also able to have a bi-partisan/bi-cameral letter from Congress to try to have agriculture representation for UAVs. None of that happened. These efforts were to have ag representation on the original ARC (Aviation Rulemaking Committee).

What did happen was a slap in the face to me and agriculture. I had scheduled an appointment a couple months in advance to meet with the top officials at the FAA. I was working on agriculture representation for the ARC. The day I had the meeting to discuss this I was informed that the invitations were sent out....that day to be a member. A true slap in the face.

I did learn a couple of interesting things. First I was told by someone in D.C. that "Politicians come and go, those that work in departments are there for a lifetime." From the time I started this to present I have had three different Congressmen from my district. That means I had to start the process over every two years.

A second thing I learned is that the FAA  is made up of mainly aviators. That is fine and I understand why. I wouldn't want the Department of Agriculture to be made up of construction workers or the Department of Education to made up of Realtors. However, I do believe that if rules will effect an industry there should be representation.

Maybe there are USDA officials or researchers involved in the process from agriculture, however they are not the industry. The needs of the agriculture industry are different than the needs of researchers in many instances. There is overlap and I love working with the University of Idaho and it's extension personnel but research and reality sometimes are different.

Finally I also learned that agriculture is not many circles. The whole process of learning about UAVs, speaking about them, and trying to create sensible regulations showed me how farmers and agriculture are looked down upon.

I don't know why that is, but I have my hunches. One reason is reality shows and how they portray us. American Gothic is a great painting, but that is how agriculture is perceived. Like Rodney Dangerfield, rural people and agriculture get "No Respect" in many circles.

But the FAA is not only disrespecting agriculture, they are disrespecting the public. UAVs are a transformative technology that can help agriculture do things more responsibly. The message from the media, NGOs, and the public say they want less erosion, less water used, less fertilizer, and less pesticides. This technology can those wants into realities.

What needs to happen is better recognition of the importance of UAVs and agriculture to our elected officials. We need organizations like AUVSI (Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International) to partner with our agriculture organizations to help create the rules necessary for successful UAV integration into agriculture.

While AUVSI showed the same respect in 2008 as the FAA did, they are now committed to promoting UAV use in agriculture. A powerful message can be sent if, and only if, there is mutual respect.

What is in the past is the past and we need to move forward. I am truly excited about the prospects and interest in UAVs, especially in the last couple of months. Regarding UAVs in agriculture, the media is showing respect, politicians are showing respect, and the business community is showing respect.

It's time for the FAA to follow the example of others instead of bowing their backs. We need each other for this to be successful. Agriculture has and is reaching out to the FAA to help successfully bring UAVs into the commercial airspace. It is now the FAA's turn to show the same amount of respect.