September 5 - 15 Using Airplanes to Improve Soil Health in NJ
During September 5-15, 2023 a low-flying plane will blanket 1,000 acres of northern and central NJ cropland in cover crops; an all-natural mixture of rye and clover seeds. However, farmers won’t be harvesting this crop in the spring; its purpose is to build resilience and prevent soil erosion.
Cover crops are being embraced by farmers. They help farmers by improving soil - increasing organic matter of the soil while also improving water infiltration rates, water holding capacity and downstream water quality. "It’s a win-win and many farmers believe the use of cover crops is a no-brainer for building resilience to the droughts and deluges common today" says Laura Tessieri, Executive Director of North Jersey RC&D.
The aerial seeding program is in its 10th year and is the result of a partnership between USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and nonprofit North Jersey RC&D. North Jersey RC&D coordinates with local farmers, as well as, plane and seed companies to achieve cost savings from bulk purchasing.
Experienced pilots will perform the seeding using an air tractor, a fixed wing aircraft designed for the purpose of seeding. No pesticides or fertilizers are applied during this operation.
The seeds will grow under the dense corn and soy cover. When the grains and beans are harvested, the newly established cover crops will remain, protecting the soil from erosion throughout the winter. In the spring, the lush cover crops will provide additional soil nitrogen, build organic matter and suppress weeds.
The 2023 seed mix includes cereal rye, annual rye grass and crimson clover -- all non GMO seed. The clover species in the mix are chosen to promote nitrogen fixation and the rye is
hardy and provides rapid, dense coverage. The multi-species mix increases soil microbial activity and water holding capacity while protecting the soil from erosion.
“The logistics of aerial seeding are far from simple,” said Christian Bench, NRCS District Conservationist in the Frenchtown NRCS field office. “Identification of fields to be
seeded is done in advance of the actual seeding so that flight paths can be established and seeding of nearby farms can be coordinated.” Weather conditions and temporary flight
restrictions influence seeding dates.
“With the combined support of the farmers, NRCS, NJDEP, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Open Space Institute and the Delaware River Watershed Initiative, this aerial seeding initiative demonstrates the benefit of partnerships in the region to improve and protect soil and water resources,” Tessieri remarked.
North Jersey Resource Conservation & Development (RC&D) is a regional nonprofit organization serving Hunterdon, Morris, Somerset, Sussex, Union, and Warren Counties in New Jersey. Through partnerships with municipal, state and federal agencies, as well as many private entities, the North Jersey RC&D Council develops and manages programs and projects that promote the conservation and improvement of the region’s resources.
For more information, please visit www.northjerseyrcd.org.