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News Release

Helicopter returning to drop seed on local farm fields in soil conservation effort

Diane Petit, Public Affairs Officer

A helicopter drops rye seed on a cornfield.

AMHERST, Mass., August 24, 2018 – A helicopter will again be flying over local cropland, dropping a mixture of winter rye, oats, and forage radish 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 from late August to early September on nearly 3,000 acres of farmland in towns across Massachusetts.

Some 38 farms in 33 Bay State communities are participating voluntarily and are receiving financial and technical assistance for the conservation practice from the U.S. 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 cover crop seed 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 in late September to early October, 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 Christine Clarke, Massachusetts State Conservationist for NRCS. “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 a living root in the soil at all times,” said Clarke. “The cover crop will stay green throughout the fall and winter, will build organic matter, and will protect and stabilize the soil from erosion.”

“Weather and other variables will determine the exact flight schedule,” noted Clarke. “We want the public to be aware that the seeding in their town will take place soon.”

This is the fourth consecutive year that NRCS has offered help with aerial cover crop seeding to local farms. While aerial seeding isn’t new, the GPS technology is a new enhancement that makes placement of the practice more efficient and effective.

Following are towns with participating farms, by county.

  • Berkshire: Adams, Cheshire, Egremont, Great Barrington, Lanesborough, New Ashford, North Adams, Sheffield, Williamstown
  • Essex: West Newbury
  • Franklin: Ashfield, Colrain, Conway, Deerfield, Gill, Greenfield, Northfield, Orange, Sunderland, Whately
  • Hampden: Monson, Westfield, Wilbraham
  • Hampshire: Belchertown, Cummington, Hatfield, South Hadley, Southampton
  • Middlesex: Carlisle, Townsend
  • Worcester: Leicester, Oxford, Warren

More information on aerial cover crop seeding, including photos and video...