- Sarah Cotton
Aerial Seeded Cover Crops Will Keep Soil from Eroding
684 acres of crop land in Scott County will be well protected against erosion this winter and spring thanks to the aerial seeding of cover crops.
In most corn and soybean operations there is nothing growing in the crop fields from after the harvest until next year’s planting, meaning that in late fall, winter, and early spring the fields are left will little protection against erosion. Farmers throughout Scott County are using conservation farming practices to help reduce erosion and improve the health of their soil. One of these practices is conservation tillage where crop residue, such as corn stalks, is left on the field after harvest instead of being plowed under. This practice protects the soil from erosion and improves soil health because there is less disturbance of the soil. Another conservation tool is cover crops.
Cover crops are grown between cash crops so there are living plants with roots holding the soil in place during the fall, winter, and spring when fields are most vulnerable to erosion. Cover crops have many additional benefits including helping to suppress weed growth, reducing soil compaction, improving infiltration, and creating pollinator habitat. A cover crop can be a mix of species or one single species, depending on the producer’s operation and goals. Common cover crop species include rye, radishes, turnips, oats, vetch, and buckwheat. Cover crops can be interseeded between rows of standing corn in the spring, seeded with a drill after harvest in the fall, or aerial seeded with an airplane or helicopter in the fall before the harvest. The Scott Soil and Water Conservation District in Jordan works with producers in Scott County who are interested in planting cover crops.
Ten Scott County producers chose to utilize aerial seeding this fall and the Scott SWCD helped to coordinate the effort. The Scott and Le Sueur SWCDs worked together to hire Midwest Ag Air to seed cover crops in both counties at the same time so the producers could get at a lower group price. Three different cover crop seed mixes were used to best fit the producers’ needs. Loading the plane with seed and flying to each field takes a bit of time but once seeding begins the plane can seed an acre every minute. The seeding went smoothly thanks in large part to the cooperation of all the producers involved. They all needed to agree on seed mixes, seeding rates, planting dates and price and they all worked together to make sure their cover crops were seeded. The runway for the plane and gravity boxes for transporting the seed were donated by producers in neighboring Le Sueur County, showing that they are committed to getting cover crops on the ground.
In addition to the 684 acres of cover crops that were aerial seeded in Scott County, producers working with the Scott SWCD have seeded over 600 acres of cover crops in 2018 with a drill or interseeder.
Cover crops are an important part of soil and water conservation and these producers show that cover crops can work right here in Scott County. If you are interested in incorporating cover crops into your farming operation call the Scott SWCD office at 952-492-5425 to find out about financial incentives and to create a cover crop plan specific to your farm.