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Seen A Mysterious Helicopter Lately? Relax, It Was Seeding Cover Crop

Aerial application of cover crop seed is one of the techniques that UVM Extension recommends for farmers looking to establish their cover crops in a timely fashion.

Recent sightings of a low-flying helicopter in Chittenden and Franklin counties have left some residents puzzled. But if you've been hypothesizing about covert NSA ops in the Green Mountain State, put your fears aside.

The chopper has been spreading seed for cover crop onto cornfields.

"Yeah, it's a winter cereal rye," Kirsten Workman, an agronomy outreach professional with the University of Vermont Extension's Middlebury office, said Monday.

Workman said that the aerial application of cover crop seed is one of the techniques that UVM Extension recommends for farmers looking to establish their cover crops in a timely fashion.

"The earlier you plant them, the more biomass you get both in the fall, for good erosion control, as well as in the spring and beyond," she said.

The chopper has been everywhere from New Hampshire to New York, Workman says, and "a lot in Chittenden County, including Richmond, Bolton [and] Colchester."

Hence a quizzical posting on the Richmond Front Porch forum on Sept. 26:

So?? I was out riding my bike to the Corner Market and back on Weds evening about 5. First I saw two guys in an big white unmarked pickup, newish, big one jumping out every so often to photograph and note what seemed like the top of utility poles?? First in the village, then down Cochran rd. Followed by seeing a helicopter landed in the corn field across from the horse farm on Cochran Rd? Pretty cool thing. Anyone know anything about any of this? Just oddly interesting?

This is the third season that UVM Extension has partnered with Mansfield Heliflight to make the service available to farmers. Workman says the seed can be spread before the corn is harvested, which has been especially helpful this season.

"We've had a slow-to-mature corn crop with our cooler weather, and so farmers are getting their corn crop off much later than they anticipated, which leaves them very little time to get a cover crop established," Workman said. "So those farmers that were able to utilize this tool will be, you know, many steps ahead of the game."

The State of Vermont and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) provide cost-sharing incentives to farmers to help offset the costs of establishing cover crops. Funding for broadcast aerial application expired on Oct. 1, but the deadline for direct planting was extended to Oct. 15.

Workman says that a helicopter visited eight farms in Chittenden County, covering just shy of 1,000 acres this year, but did not have numbers for other counties. (Mansfield Heliflight has not responded to a request for the total number of flights.) 

So if you saw a conspiratorial-looking helicopter recently, you can probably put your conspiracy theories to rest. Probably.

"All the other ideas are way more exciting than the truth," Workman says.

Angela Evancie serves as Vermont Public's Senior VP of Content, and was the Director of Engagement Journalism and the Executive Producer of Brave Little State, the station's people-powered journalism project.
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