Industry-in-Brief: FAA Finalizes Small UAS Rule, Federal GMO Labeling Compromise Reached, more

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The FAA Releases Long-Awaited Rule for Small Drone Commercial Usage

The Federal Aviation Administration released the final version of its Small UAS rule, allowing the commercial use of small-sized drone aircraft subject to certain requirements and restrictions. Some industry estimates suggest that the rule could generate over $82 billion for the US economy and create over 100k new jobs during the next decade. The new rule will take effect in late August 2016.

The rule’s provisions are designed to minimize risks to other aircraft, people, and property on the ground. The regulations require pilots to keep unmanned aircraft within their visual line of sight. Operations are allowed during daylight and during twilight if the drone has anti-collision lights. The new regulations also address height and speed restrictions and other operational limits, such as prohibiting flights over unprotected people on the ground who aren’t directly participating in the UAS operation. The FAA is offering a process to waive some restrictions if an operator proves the proposed flight will be conducted safely under a waiver. The FAA will make an online portal available to apply for these waivers in the months ahead.

Under the final rule, the person actually flying a drone must be at least 16 years old and have a remote pilot certificate with a small UAS rating, or be directly supervised by someone with such a certificate. To qualify for a remote pilot certificate, an individual must either pass an initial aeronautical knowledge test at an FAA-approved knowledge testing center or have an existing non-student Part 61 pilot certificate. If qualifying under the latter provision, a pilot must have completed a flight review in the previous 24 months and must take a UAS online training course provided by the FAA. The TSA will conduct a security background check of all remote pilot applications prior to issuance of a certificate. 

The American Farm Bureau Federation is less pleased with the rule, expressing its intent to continue working with the FAA to ease some of the restrictions. AFBF is particularly focused on softening the rules’ requirement that operators keep drones within their line of sight, noting that many farmers operate on vast acres of land that are often not contiguous.

US Senators Reach GMO Labeling Compromise, Preempting Vermont Law 

Only a few days before Vermont’s mandatory GMO labeling law was set to take effect, US Senators Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) announced that they’ve reached a compromise in the ongoing debate over a federal labeling standard. According to the senior legislators’ deal, products containing GMO ingredients must satisfy one of the following: (1) a phrase on the product’s label stating that the product contains GMOs, (2) a symbol on the packaging, or (3) a QR or barcode that consumers can scan with smartphone devices. Stabenow stood firm on including a requirement that would allow organic producers to print the terms “non-GMO” on their products. Although the National Organic Program has always excluded GMOs, printing the language on product labels is an important marketing platform for some producers and for consumers seeking such products. Many major industry players have come out in favor of the compromise’s terms, particularly in its willingness to allow the use of SmartLabel technologies, which over 35 companies have already adopted.

Kellogg’s Launches $100m Venture Capital Fund for Food Startup Investments 

Kellogg’s has establishing eighteen94 capital (1894), a venture capital fund that will make minority investments in companies pursuing next-generation innovation, increasing the Michigan-based corporation’s access to cutting-edge ideas and trends. The investment mandate includes start-up businesses pioneering new ingredients, foods, packaging, and enabling technology. 1894 intends to invest approximately $100 million. As a result, it will play an important role in achieving the company’s 2020 strategic growth objectives. 1894 will invest in emerging businesses in both Kellogg’s core categories and adjacent categories, and in companies that have developed new consumer-driven technologies that could lead to long-term, mutual growth opportunities. 

While stage-agnostic, the fund will emphasize early stage opportunities with companies that have demonstrated good product and market fit and have generated initial revenue. 1894 will be managed by Simon Burton, managing director, a 10-year executive at Kellogg’s who also has extensive investment experience in the consumer products sector and with start-ups. In addition, Kellogg’s has partnered with Touchdown Ventures, which specializes in corporate venture capital, to assist with management of the fund.

Chile Now Home to World’s Largest Robotic Dairy Farm

Fundo El Risquillo, a large farm in Chile with 6,500 dairy cows, has just signed an agreement to install 64 milking robots making it the world’s largest robotic milking farm. The operation milks 920 cows with 16 robotic milkers, half of which were installed in October 2014 and the other half installed at the end of March. The operation uses four rotary parlors milk another 5,600 cows. The farm’s operations manager, Odrióm Escobar, believes that the increases in milk production that the farm has seen are largely attributable to the diminished amount of time that the cows spend standing around waiting to be milked. The machines also help cut down on labor costs and demands.

 Agricultural Data Coalition Appoints Farmer Advisory Board

The Agricultural Data Coalition (ADC) has appointed a farmer advisory board that currently consists of 10 men and women who will help guide the initiative in developing a data management repository to store agricultural information. ADC’s mission is to create a neutral, independent warehouse where farmers can securely store and control the data generated by their tractors, harvesters, aerial imaging and other devices. Advisory board members farm in seven states and raise crops ranging from corn and soybeans to cotton, sorghum, wheat and potatoes. According to Dr. Keith Coble of Mississippi State, another ADC founding member, the initial advisory board members represents a sufficiently diverse array of farmers to help ensure that ADC is meeting everyone’s needs. 

Importers Eye Cuban Organics, but Roadblocks Prevail

Cuba is known for its well-established organics program, making many companies hoping to import these products eager to have trade restrictions lifted. The US demand for organic products is climbing at a speedy rate, making it hard for domestic suppliers to keep up. With roughly 400,000 certified organic farms, Cuba could soon be a main supplier for organic bananas, coffee, and mangoes, which reflect a combined $600 million in US imports for the 2013 year. Anxious and would-be importers are optimistic after Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack signed an agreement with Cuban Ag Minister Gustavo Rollero signaling both parties’ intent to collaborate on agriculture issues. Also, the US Agriculture Coalition for Cuba and the island’s state-maintained Grupo Empresarial Agricola penned a similar memorandum of understanding discussing how its 54 Cuban agribusiness members and 650 farming cooperatives could benefit from US companies’ assistance. Still, navigating the legal weeds of ensuring that both countries organic certification programs are sufficiently comparable could take several years.

Other News That’s Fit to Chew:

·      The economic crisis in Venezuela is worsening as food shortages lead to looting, on NPR.

·      A repeated Listeria outbreak causes recall of food sent to certain school districts, on Food Safety News.

·      The majority of UK voters have decided to leave the EU. Find out how it may impact British farmers in The Telegraph.

·      Cold press juice costs a lot when it comes to dollars, but how much is it costing us in terms of food waste? On Modern Farmer.

·      Only a week after Philly votes to enact a soda tax, San Francisco has placed a similar measure on the November ballot, on SF BayArea.

Have news or tips? Let me know: lmanning@agfunder.com or tweet me @Lo_Manning. 

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