Timing, Predators Affect Aerial Cover Crop Seeding

An experienced ag pilot says flying on covers in northern climates too early can starve the seeds for sunlight or leave them prey to slugs and earthworms.

Pictured Above: EXPENSIVE MEAL. Slugs feast on the germ end of cereal rye seed that was aerially applied into a field of standing soybeans last fall near Waupun, Wis

Aerial seeding is a popular method to help no-tillers get cover crops established in a timely manner, especially in far northern U.S. climates where growing seasons are shorter and application windows are tight.

In fact, 23% of row-crop farmers say aerial seeding is their primary means of applying covers, only behind drilling at 38%, according to Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education’s (SARE) most recent cover crop survey.

If results from aerial seeding are spotty, some farmers are quick to point the finger at the pilot. While pilot error is possible, there’s a whole lot more that goes into successful applications, says Damon Reabe.

In the Dark?

The president at Waupun, Wis.-based Reabe Spraying Service says continued work with cover crops has convinced him that many no-tillers in cold climates are having covers flown on too early in the fall, leaving them subject to reduced sunlight.

For instance, during an early fall where corn harvest might be ongoing in early October, there’s enough time for covers seeded in September to access enough heat units and daylight to grow up through post-harvest residue.

But if harvest happens in November, when there’s fewer heat units and daylight, leftover residue might smother the covers and kill them before farmers see any results. Reabe says in Wisconsin he will often refuse to seed covers into grain…

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John dobberstein2

John Dobberstein

John Dobberstein is senior editor of No-Till Farmer magazine and the e-newsletter Dryland No-TillerHe previously covered agriculture for the Tulsa World and worked for daily newspapers in Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Joseph, Mich. He graduated with a B.A. in journalism and political science from Central Michigan University.

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