Helicopters are seeding fields to cover crops in nine Massachusetts counties. They’re dropping a mixture of winter rye, oats and forage radish seed to improve soil health and protect the soil after the main crop is harvested, says Christine Clarke, Massachusetts state conservationist for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.
The seeding will continue into mid-September on roughly an east-to-west schedule across the state. More than 70 farms in 54 Bay State communities are participating voluntarily and are receiving financial and technical assistance for the conservation practice from NRCS through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.
By interseeding the cover crop seed into a crop such as corn now, the cover crop is already established by corn harvest. In New England, if producers apply a cover crop after they harvest their crop in late September to early October, it can be too late for it to establish well enough to provide full benefits, says Clarke.
“It’s a very controlled seed application that uses GPS to track the helicopter’s flight path and precisely map where seed was distributed,” she adds. “One of the big principles of soil health is to keep a living root in the soil at all times. The cover crop will stay green throughout the fall and winter, builds organic matter and protects and stabilizes the soil from erosion.”
Weather and other variables will determine the exact flight schedule. This is the third consecutive year NRCS has offered help with aerial cover crop seeding to local farms. This year, GPS technology is a new enhancement that makes seed placement more efficient and effective.