Helicopter Seeding Helps Vermont Farmers Meet New State Water Quality Regulations

By Nina Gage, VAAFM

Vermont farmers have experienced some tough conditions this season. The wet environments will make it hard to get corn off the fields in time for cover crop planting, which is now a requirement for all flood plain fields. To help support their farm customers, Bourdeau Brothers of Sheldon organized an aerial cover crop seed application by helicopter to meet new cover crop establishment deadlines. According to the Agency of Ag’s new Required Agricultural Practices, all fields with frequently flooded soils must be cover cropped by October 1 if broadcast applied, or October 15 if the cover crop seed is drilled or planted.

Bourdeau Brothers organized Gene Kritter of Kritter Cropdusting from Virginia to fly his helicopter over Vermont farm fields and apply cover crop seeds into the growing corn. This enables farmers to leave their corn on the field for as long as possible while the cover crop seeds germinate underneath the corn stocks. When farmers harvest their corn, the green cover crop will be left to cover the field through the winter and spring, preventing erosion, improving soil health, and protecting nearby streams or rivers from runoff.

Last year, Bourdeau Brothers organized aerial application via Global Positioning System (GPS) with Kritter Cropdusting on roughly 1,000-1,500 acres . This year, with the new water quality regulations requiring cover cropping on frequently flooded soils, Kritter Cropdusting spent two weeks in Vermont applying cover crops via aerial application on more than 3,000 acres of floodplain fields, working with approximately 20 different farms.

“We are proud of our Vermont farmers as they continue to work together to improve water quality and embrace these new practices to reduce runoff," commented Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Alyson Eastman.

One of the farms that had their cover crops applied aerially was Pleasant Valley Farms of Enosburg. This was not their first time using aerial cover crop application and they anticipate a much more successful experience. Amanda St. Pierre, owner of Pleasant Valley Farms, stated that they expect to have a good cover crop this year due to a successful seed application and the good weather that followed. Over 400 acres of Pleasant Valley Farm was cover cropped aerially, 90% of which was frequently flooded land area, and the rest were highly erodible acreage.

According to Dr. Heather Darby of UVM Extension, “Aerial Seeding is a great option in a year like this where corn is likely going to be harvested pretty late into the fall, not leaving much time for cover crops to actually be planted.” Dr. Darby suggested there a few methods farmers can use right now to help get a jump start on cover cropping – whether that is with a helicopter for aerial application, or by using a highboy seeder to plant directly between the standing rows of corn.

Bourdeau Brothers is in discussion with Kritter Cropdusting to have the service come back up to Vermont for additional cover crop applications, depending on the number of farms interested in aerial application.

To support farmers in adopting such a beneficial conservation practice, both the Vermont Agency of Ag and the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) offers financial assistance to farmers. NRCS has extended their cover crop financial assistance establishment dates to September 30th for broadcast, or October 15th for drilled or otherwise incorporated. State financial assistance through the Agency of Ag’s Farm Agronomic Practices Program has cover cropping deadlines of October 1 for broadcast and October 15 for drilled or otherwise incorporated.

For more information about the Vermont Agency of Ag’s program to support fall cover crop planting in Vermont, please call: 802-828-2431 or visit: agriculture.vermont.gov/fap

Photo Credit: Deputy Secretary Alyson Eastman