In 2014 NAAA and Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI) hosted the webinar, “Successfully Aerially Seeding Cover Crops.” In it, NAAA pilot member Brian Berst and two Midwest cover crop consultants shared their insights, advice and strategies for effectively seeding cover crops by air. Approximately 40 NAAA members participated in the live event. For those who missed the webinar, PFI archived it, making it available on demand to watch whenever you would like. Anyone interested in learning more about cover crop applications will find the webinar to be well worth your time. Here are a few of the things we learned during this online educational opportunity.
For starters, cover crops could be a real boon to aerial applicators’ business. Based on present-day estimates, cover crop acres may have to increase by as much as 500 percent to reach cover crop advocates’ goal of 20 million acres of cover crops by 2020. Aerial applicators are uniquely qualified to help farmers meet their cover crop objectives because no method of application can seed more acres of cover crops within the allowable window to get good establishment more quickly than an ag aircraft.
The meat of the webinar began with Berst describing Klinkenborg Aerial Spraying and Seeding’s experience working with cover crops. The Parkersburg, Iowa, operation added aerial cover crop seeding to its service portfolio because there was a high demand for it in northern Iowa and it allowed Klinkenborg to extend its flying season by three to four weeks at the end of the summer.
From his vantage point as Klinkenborg’s head pilot, Berst shared several tips, chief among them the importance of seed selection and proper calibration to ensure the seed disperses in the correct pattern. Klinkenborg finds streamlined seed blends easier and faster to work with, and Berst recommends getting the seed mixes delivered in bulk. When a cover crop blend features a range of seed sizes, he advises determining the swath width based on the lightest seed in the blend. Soil contact, sunlight and water are essential to good establishment, but even when the seeds land on the leaves of the existing crop instead of the ground, Berst noted that wind and rain will cause most of them to fall to the ground.
Next, Jamie Scott of Scott’s Cover Crops in Pierceton, Ind., discussed the benefits of cover crops and why he is a proponent of aerial seeding. The biggest advantage aerial seeding has over other cover crop planting methods, of course, is time. To illustrate the importance of timing, Scott pointed out that in Indiana the difference between planting cover crops on Oct. 7 instead of Sept. 7 is that you are losing an hour and a half of sunlight and 12 degrees in temperature. Planting the seeds earlier via aerial application gives cover crops more time to establish themselves with thicker, deeper roots.
The formal portion of the webinar concluded with a presentation on seed selection from Sarah Carlson, PFI’s Midwest cover crop research coordinator. Carlson discussed the varieties of seeds available for cover cropping as well as what’s being aerially applied in different areas of the country. She also walked viewers through the Midwest Cover Crop Council’s Cover Crop Decision Tool, a web-based tool designed to assist farmers in selecting cover crops to include in their crop rotations.
NAAA extends its thanks to Practical Farmers of Iowa for hosting the cover crops webinar and all of the speakers who shared their insights about aerial cover crop seeding. The webinar concluded with a Q&A session based on audience-generated questions. “Successfully Aerially Seeding Cover Crops” is available to view in its entirety here.