Agronomist says aerial seeding helps establish cover crop

Farm Forum

ABERDEEN, S.D. (AP) — Planes that typically fly over fields dropping chemicals to kill weeds and bugs are increasingly being used to spread seed for cover crops.

Eric Barsness, a Brookings-based conservation agronomist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service, told the Aberdeen American News ( ) that farmers are using aerial seeding to help establish a cover crop even before corn is harvested.

Barsness said the process allows more time for growth before the first frost, instead of waiting until after harvest to plant the cover crop with a drill.

“Late August and the first two weeks of September is the best time frame for seeding,” he said. “The most important criteria is to seed just before a rain. That gets the seed started in the soil.”

Loren Greenhoff, a pilot with Leading Edge Aerial Spraying of Dell Rapids, said the seed spreader attaches to the bottom of his airplane, and the seed is stored in the chemical tanks.

“I’m running at 100 mph, either into or with the wind, to get the same rate of seed over the field,” Greenhoff said. “It works almost like an end-gate seeder. We calibrate the rate before we take off and then fine-tune it once we get in the air.”

Day County farmer Steve Zubke said cover crops are important to help hold soil from wind and soil erosion. He used aerial seeding on his farm for the first time last year.

“I plant cover crops for soil health mostly,” Zubke said. “Extra grazing could be an added benefit. The cover crops I plant have deep roots, such as radishes and turnips.”

It costs about $10 an acre for the plane to apply the seed mix, which can include five to 10 species including rye, winter wheat, annual rye grass, crimson clover, common vetch, turnip, radish and canola.