For a few years now, the USDA has been administering an aerial program that’s a little unusual. Helicopters are, surprisingly enough, not that uncommon in the agriculture business; they’re used for everything from pesticide spraying to blasting warm air onto orchards during cold spells. But the aerial seeding program is different.
This program, administered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, a division of the USDA, is a voluntary program that allows farmers to apply to have cover crops seeded from the air. Starting on August 10, the newest effort will be in Massachusetts, starting in the far west of the state and moving east.
Specifically, they’ll be seeding with rye grass, one of the most popular crops for soil replenishing. Rye is a kind of a magical crop: it injects nitrogen back into the soil, gifts it with all kinds of beneficial microbes and organic matter, and even manages to improve the soil’s ability to hold water and reduce erosion. (As a money crop, it’s not useless either: it’s prized in production of hay.)
And if you’re wondering, hey, wait, August 10 seems a bit early to be seeding a new crop, well, that’s intentional. Typically it would be inefficient or impossible to go in and sow seeds before crops are fully harvested by using ground equipment, but aerial seeding, according to the USDA, allows for seeding this early.
If you’re a farmer and you’re interested in this program for your own farm (or need other assistance), head on over to the NRCS website.
Editor’s note: We updated this post on 9/6/16 with an ohoto of the aerial seeding from the USDA.