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4 tips for successfully seeding cover crops with aerial application

Cover crops
Salute Soil Health: Establish cover crops successfully when seeded by airplane.

Some people swear by seeding cover crops with an airplane. Others swear at it. The difference may boil down to paying attention to details, including picking an aerial applicator who understands how to apply seed.

Here are four tips for achieving successful cover crop stands through aerial application. This information was prepared by Indiana Conservation Partnership personnel and other partners. The team gathering this information is led by Natural Resources Conservation Service personnel, including Don Donovan and Clint Harrison, district conservationists; Susannah Hinds, grazing specialist; Scot Haley, resource soil scientist; Kris Vance, public affairs specialist; Victor Shelton, state agronomist/grazing specialist; Tony Bailey, state conservation agronomist; and Shannon Zezula, state resource conservationist

1. Pick the right time to seed cover crops into standing crops.
It’s time to plan your aerial application of cover crops. For most of the state, right around Labor Day is the appropriate time frame. Successful cover crop farmers find they like to fly cover crops into standing corn when the corn is dead about a third of the way up the stalk. 

2. Improve chances of getting seed to the soil surface.
Donovan says seeding into standing corn when it is dead about one-third of the way up the stalk gives the seed a better chance of getting to the soil surface. It also allows more light to reach the cover crop after the crop emerges, all the way until harvest.

3. Time aerial application into soybeans carefully.
When aerially applying cover crop seed into soybean, it’s best to fly the cover crop on when the soybean leaves are about halfway turned yellow, Donovan notes. Once leaves have completely turned, they will fall to the soil surface and help protect the seed and hold moisture for the young cover crop as it germinates and emerges.

If the leaves have already dropped when the seed is flown on, you will get poor seed-to-soil contact, and therefore poor seed germination. Of course, flying on the cover crop right before a nice rain always makes things work better, if you can arrange that with your applicator. 

4. Pick the right applicator to fly on cover crop seed.
When picking an aerial applicator, make sure you choose one who is experienced in seeding cover crops. Check some references and talk to farmers experienced in having cover crops aerially applied. They are your best tool and source of information for making cover crops on your farm a success!

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