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News Release

Helicopter to drop seed on local farm fields in conservation effort

Diane Baedeker Petit, Public Affairs Officer
413-253-4371, cell 413-835-1276

A helicopter drops rye seed on a cornfield.

AMHERST, Mass., July 29, 2016 – A helicopter will soon be flying over local cropland, dropping winter rye grass seed in an effort to improve soil health by establishing a “cover crop” that will protect the soil after the main crop is harvested. The aerial seeding is scheduled to take place between August 10th and mid-September in towns across Massachusetts, on a roughly northwest to southeast schedule.

Farms are participating voluntarily and are receiving financial and technical assistance for the conservation practice from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).

The conservation practice involves a helicopter flying over corn fields, releasing the seed from a hopper hanging beneath the chopper. By inter-seeding the rye into a crop such as corn, the cover crop is already established when the corn is harvested a few weeks later. In New England, if agricultural producers apply a cover crop after they harvest their crop, it can be too late in the season for it to establish well enough to provide full benefits.

“To a bystander, it might look unusual to see a helicopter flying low over neighboring farms. We’d like residents to know that they needn’t be concerned and understand that their farm neighbors are caring for the land by participating in this project,” said Rita Thibodeau, NRCS District Conservationist who is coordinating the statewide effort. “It’s a very controlled seed application that uses a Global Positioning System (GPS) to track the helicopter’s flight path and precisely map where seed was distributed.”

“One of the big principles of soil health is to keep something growing on the surface of the ground at all times,” said Thibodeau. “The cover crop will keep the ground covered in the fall, winter and spring.”

“Weather and other variables will determine the exact flight schedule,” noted Thibodeau. “We want the public to be aware that the seeding in their town will take place sometime during the mid-August to mid-September time period.”

NRCS offered help with aerial cover crop seeding to local farms last year for the first time in two decades. While aerial seeding isn’t new, the GPS technology is a new enhancement that makes the practice more efficient and effective.

Following are towns with participating farms, by county.

  • Berkshire County: Adams, Cheshire, Lanesborough, North Adams, Sheffield, West Stockbridge and Williamstown
  • Bristol County: Dartmouth, Taunton and Westport
  • Essex County: West Newbury
  • Franklin County: Bernardston, Buckland, Colrain, Conway, Deerfield, Greenfield, Northfield, Sunderland
  • Hampden County: Monson, Westfield and Wilbraham
  • Hampshire County: Amherst, Cummington, Hadley, Hatfield, Northampton, South Hadley, Southampton, Westhampton and Worthington
  • Middlesex County: Carlisle and Littleton
  • Plymouth County: Bridgewater and Middleboro
  • Worcester County: Bolton, Brookfield, Charlton, Fitchburg, Hardwick, Harvard, Holden, Lancaster, Leicester, Leominster, Lunenburg, New Braintree, North Brookfield, Oakham, Oxford, Rutland, Spencer, Sturbridge, Sutton, Warren, West Brookfield and Westborough.