Cover crop seeding has changed Townsend Aviation’s fortunes for the better. Aviation support for midwest agriculture had been seasonal until the recent trend to no-till practices, adding cover crops into standing, mature corn and soybean crops in the late summer. “We’ve tripled our acreage in the last three years,” said Townsend, who said they seeded over 15,000 acres last August.
Farmers have flocked to cover crops like annual ryegrass because of the immense economic benefits: erosion control, reduced compaction, improved soil health, increased crop production and lower costs on fuel and fertilizer.
Cameron Mills planted 1100 acres of annual ryegrass in 2009 and 2010. Despite very different weather patterns, the Indiana grower said the aerial seeding produced fantastic results. Mills used Townsend Aviation and said the operator flew on 22,000 pounds of seed accurately in one afternoon with two planes. “Annual ryegrass seed is very light, so you have to make adjustments for that, with a narrower swath,” Mills said. “Seasoned pilots who apply liquids know about wind drift and protecting neighbor’s property.”
Townsend uses Satloc M3 GPS equipment on his planes and helicopter, and upgraded his computer software with Flight Plan Online. “I can either upload field data files sent electronically from farmers or have them come in with their maps and I’ll load it here,” said Derek Shannon, one of Townsend’s mapping technicians.
“I also invested in a new truck specifically because of the cover crop market,” Townsend said. A beefy Ford cab and chassis was shipped to Auger Dan’s in Trumann, AR, where a stainless steel loader and scale assembly was mounted. “The front-load auger is quicker and much safer than the old loading operation,” said Mills. “They can put about 2500 pounds of annual ryegrass seed into the plane in under three minutes.”
Townsend said word of mouth, from clients like Cameron Mills, is responsible for most of the increase of his cover crop business. However, he was invited by Purdue University to a conference last year on no-till and cover crops. “We were the only air operator with a booth,” Townsend said, “and it was very effective. People are moving to aerial seeding very rapidly because it’s way more convenient than drill seeding and doesn’t cost any more.”
Further east, Jeff Chorman flies on annual ryegrass and other cover crops to farms near the seashores in Delaware, Maryland and Virginia. Cover crops have been a major part of the effort to reduce nitrate leaching from poultry farms into the seafood-rich Chesapeake Bay.