“Over 2300 acres of conservation on the ground in two days — this is definitely a worthwhile project!”
That was the comment we heard at the Holmes Soil and Water Conservation District board meeting last night from staff member Joe Christner, who coordinated our aerial cover crops program for the fourth year. We are proud of this program for a lot of reasons, but the bottom line is that our farmers save soil because of it, which benefits our entire county.
How it started
The aerial program was born out of a planning meeting of our board of supervisors, five local landowners who are publicly elected. Cover crops had been getting a lot of attention, and everyone around the table agreed that they were a good conservation practice. But why weren’t farmers planting them?
Our board’s experience was that time constraints and the availability of seed at a reasonable price were barriers to seeding cover crops. How could the SWCD structure a program that took these management aspects out of it?
Staff member Dean Slates had an idea — aerial seeding. It was common in the western part of Ohio with its large, flat fields, but not so much in Holmes County with our checkerboard of hills and small fields. But if we could combine a bunch of farms, could we get the acreage we need to have it flown?
And those hills — mostly B & C slopes with soybeans and corn taken for silage — needed cover crops the most to minimize erosion. Long story short, the answer was yes, and Fisher’s Ag Service based in Cardington, Ohio, was hired to do the seeding.
By combining farms, we could also order seed in bulk, and pass along the savings to farmers.
Then we started looking for cost-share opportunities and found them through an Ohio EPA 319 grant in 2010 and 2011, and Innovative Conservation Funds provided by Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District through ODNR Division of Soil and Water Resources in 2012.
USDA also provided funding through a couple of Natural Resources Conservation Service Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) grants, so that acreage where flown as well. And there were some farmers outside of the cost-share guidelines who participated anyway.
A classic example of what soil and water conservation districts do best: take resources and funding from a variety of sources to meet local and state needs.
Behind the scenes
Farmers simply mark maps for the aerial program through our office. After the signup deadline, a bulk seed order is placed and the fields are mapped through Fisher’s Ag Service website. And the fun begins.
One of our supervisors volunteers numerous hours trucking and unloading the seed at the airport. A former supervisor provides us with an auger and tractor at the airport, and Joe assists the flight crew and answers any questions about the mapping.
And an airplane buzzes over Holmes County sowing conservation.
This is just one example of locally led conservation programs happening all over Ohio and the U.S. Contact your local SWCD office for assistance or to learn more about conservation in your county.
(Michelle Wood is the program administrator for the Holmes Soil and Water Conservation District. She is a graduate of Mount Union College with a degree in communications, and has been involved in natural resources and agriculture throughout her career.)