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A Comprehensive Guide to Aerial Cover Crop Seeding

Updated: Sep 29, 2021


Tips to Maximize Success and Reduce Costs based on 8+ years of experience over 15,000 acres



 

CONTENTS OF GUIDE

  1. What is Aerial Seeding

  2. Benefits of Aerial Seeding

  3. Drawbacks of Aerial Seeding

  4. Tips for Sucess with Aerial Seeding

  5. Cost and Management Considerations

  6. Image Gallery

  7. Aerial Seeding Research Results


 


WHAT IS AERIAL SEEDING?


Aerial seeding is the application of cover crop via a plane, helicopter, or drone, typically into standing cash crops. Aerial seeding is generally fast and easy and allows a farmer to establish a robust cover crop stand months before cash crop harvests. The article below will outline methods of aerial seeding, tips to optimize results, advice on how to establish a low-cost cooperative, and results summarizing its success.

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SEVERAL OPTIONS EXIST FOR AERIAL SEEDING






Planes

Helicopters

Drones

​Planes are the most widely used vehicle for aerial seeding and are suitable for large acreage farms and fields. Planes can cover many acres quickly and carry a large amount of seed. However, planes are the least precise method of seeding and must reload at a nearby airport, increasing the cost of fuel and time. A plane can seed about 500 acres per day.

​Helicopters can cover large areas of land and can land close to fields for reloading, reducing fuel and time expenses. The rotor blades on helicopters can create turbulence that affects the evenness and predictability of seeding.

Because they can precisely place seeds, drones are ideal for small, irregularly-shaped fields with rough terrain. However, drones can only carry a small amount of seed and cannot cover large areas quickly.



BENEFITS TO AERIAL SEEDING

Substantial winter coverage. Through aerial seeding, farmers can establish a cover crop months before cash crop harvest in the early fall. The cover crop will establish and grow under the corn and soy vegetation; when the grains and beans are harvested, the newly seeded cover crops will remain, protecting the soil from erosion throughout the winter. Early establishment allows the cover crops to accumulate substantial above and below-ground biomass before winter and therefore better prevent nutrient leaching and surface run-off during the winter.



Multi-species Establishment. Through aerial seeding, farmers can establish a multispecies cover crop months before cash crop harvest in the early fall. Clovers, brassicas, and some grasses would not have time to establish if planted in late fall, after corn and soybean harvest.


Expedient! Not only is aerial seeding extremely efficient (a single plan can seed over 500 acres/day), it is outsourced, and therefore one less thing for farmers to do in the fall.