Timing the key to aerial seeding

Ray Mueller

Manitowoc - If the timing is right, the odds are good that the seeding of a variety of cover crops with an aerial application will be a success.

That's the experience of Dean Heimermann, who was a presenter at a well-attended forum on cover crops and soil health. He is a 20-year pilot and the owner of Countryside Aviation, which operates a fleet of six farm crop service planes based at Chilton, Antigo, and Janesville.

Before the time seed cover crops arrives, Countryside Aviation provides aerial applications of fungicides, insecticides, and urea fertilizer, Heimermann indicated. Then the planes are equipped to serve thousands of aerial seeding clients across the state, he said.

Dean Heimermann

Seeding considerations

The benefits of aerial seeding include the establishment of cover crops without having to wait for a standing crop such as soybeans or corn for silage to be harvested, a longer growing period for the cover crop, and no crop loss or soil compaction due to field travel, Heimermann observed.

“Timing is crucial” for the aerial seeding, Heimermann emphasized. “We have to monitor the weather.”

His recommended times are two weeks before corn is harvested for silage, a 50 percent drydown for corn to be harvested for grain, and a combination of yellowing foliage and 10 percent leaf drop for soybeans – near the end of August and into early September in most years.

Except for not being able to handle large seeds such as peas, “the technology is great” for this seeding method, Heimermann remarked. He explained that the flying height is 50 to 60 feet compared to 10 to 15 feet for the earlier season applications.

Service methods

The planes can drop 30 to 40 loads – each with up to three tons of seed – per day, Heimermann reported. With global positioning system guidance, each pass covers a width of 60 to 85 feet, enabling the seeding of as many as 2,000 acres in a single day, he said.

“This is the fastest way for planting high acreages,” Heimermann commented. High single day totals are achieved with the help of farmer cooperatives, canning companies, and potato grower groups who pool a geographical area for the service, he explained.

Application rates

When Heimermann first engaged in aerial seeding, very high seeding rates were employed but he says that experience has shown that a 20 percent increase compared to seed drill placement is adequate. “You need a cover, not a carpet.” He also advises farmers to check on pure live percentage of the seed and to realize that bin-run seed probably has some quality problems.

Oats, spring barley, winter cereal rye, tillage radish, annual ryegrass, triticale, and rapeseed are the farmers' most common choices for aerial seeding, Heimermann stated. If any mixes of them are well blended before going into the plane's seed hopper or tank, he said there has not been a distribution problem of the seeds tied to size or weight. Reloading from an auger buggy or truck can be done in a couple of minutes, he said.

Per acre seeding rates that Heimermann mentioned are 45 pounds of winter rye, 35 pounds of barley, 30 pounds of oats, and 6 to 10 pounds of tillage radish. Because of their large seeds, he noted that peas do not work in his system.

Cost considerations

Asked what the costs are, Heimermann did not give any numbers but indicated that they vary according to the rate of application, type of seed(s), seed weight, job size, and distance from the airport. He said the pooling by various groups cuts the cost for individual farms.

“Decide early” because that helps to map a relatively confined area to be served on a particular day, Heimermann advised. The logistics such as who gets and mixes the seeds are also important in determining the cost, he added.

More information is available on the website or by calling Heimermann at (920) 849-2199.