Water quality is something that I’m concerned about as a mom and a farmer. I live in Iowa, where this is a particularly hot topic. There is a big push to reduce nutrients in both urban and rural waters. On our farm, one of the ways we’re working to do this is by planting cover crops.

On the CommonGround blog, we recently talked about the basics of cover crops and how they can protect our land and water. As a refresher, rain and high winds can erode the land, but cover crops help hold the soil in place. This also helps prevent the nutrients found in soil particles from being washed into waterways during a heavy rain. When cover crops decompose, they release rich, nutrient-filled organic matter in the soil. This benefits the corn and soybeans we’ll plant next season.

Now you know why we plant cover crops. I also want to explain how they are planted. Thanks to advances in technology, there are several different tools we can use- including drills and planes!

Now, these don’t look like the drills you might fire up for DIY projects or planes you might fly in to go to the beach. But since most people won’t have an opportunity to see this equipment in-person, allow me to take you backstage on my farm.

Here are three ways we’ve planted cover crops and why we use each method:

What it is:  We call it “aerial application.” The plane carries the seed, flies over the field and drops the seed from the plane onto the ground, seeding the plants.

Why we use it:  The plane can be used in season (in growing cash crops – corn/soybeans). It can also be used in wet field conditions (where the high clearance seeding and drill can’t be used).

Click here to watch the video of the plane in action.

High Clearance Seeding

What it is: This machine is also filled with cover crop seed. Tubes hang down in between the rows and spread the seed onto the ground.

Why we use it:  This can also be used in-season (meaning the time when corn/soybeans are also growing in the field.) We don’t have to use as much seed as we use for aerial application because it has more precise planting.

The high clearance seeder at work. You can see here the tubes dropping into the rows of corn.


What it is: This machine is filled with seed and actually plants it into the soil.

Why we use it:  This is used later in the season when the cash crop has been harvested.  Since it’s planted into the soil, we should have the best establishment of cover crops.  This is the first year we are using the drill on our farm, so we are hoping for that to hold true.

The drill in action, planting the seeds.

As you can see, each of these tools is effective in planting cover crops. At the end of the day, we all need access to clean water, and planting cover crops is just one way farmers like me are trying to help.