The aerial application of seeds for cover crops expands. Cover crops are grasses, legumes, small grains and other low-maintenance crops planted specifically to improve soil health and biodiversity. By sowing the seeds aerially with a preharvest cover crop application, cover crops control erosion, retain and recycle soil nutrients, build organic matter to improve soil health, improve water quality and moisture availability, and break disease and insect cycles. Census of Agriculture data indicates an increase in cover crop acreage of 10.3 million acres in 2012 to 15.4 million acres in 2017. While there are several methods of seeding cover crops, aerial application is the most effective means of applying cover crops successfully.
The best time to apply many cover crops is when the harvestable cash crop is still standing. Aerial application offers the ability to spread the cover crop seed over the existing crop without any disruption to the standing crop. This means the cover crop can already be established when the cash crop is harvested allowing it more time to aerate, fertilize and establish more soil moisture.
Using a drill to plant cover crops requires a terrestrial vehicle and for the grower to wait until their cash crop is out of the field, which might not be the best timing for establishing a healthy cover crop. This can be especially true in northern parts of the U.S. where the first frost can interfere with cover crop growth if they are seeded too late.
Aerial application can also be used when the soil is wet and can seed many acres quickly. Timing is a critical part of successfully establishing a healthy cover crop.