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Drones seed cover crops on Central Iowa farm

Pictured: A drone operated by Iowa-based Rantizo prepares to seed cover crops on Lee Tesdell's farm in Central Iowa on Monday, August 23, 2021. (Photo by Brent Barnett)

Central Iowa landowner Lee Tesdell implements many conservation practices on his family’s century farm near Slater. A recent field day showcased how he works with Iowa-based Rantizo to seed cover crops with drones.

On Monday, August 23rd, the Center for Rural Affairs, Practical Farmers of Iowa, Polk Soil and Water Conservation District, and Rantizo hosted the “Cover Crops and Saturated Buffers: Teaming Up for Better Water Quality” field day. Tesdell says the event featured a demonstration of drones seeding cover crops, including a multi-species swarm seeding by Rantizo. He runs his farm under a landowner-tenant collaboration with operator Mike Helland.

“This is the first year we’ve done seeding with drones,” said Tesdell. “Previously we’ve used planes and high clearance machines like a Hagie. We’ve never tried drilling after harvest because we’re trying to get that growth going earlier in the fall. Drones look interesting. I think one of the limitations is going to be seed tank capacity on the drones. Today, they are swarming with three drones, so it makes it a little faster, but I think to get a lot of seed on quickly, a plane or a high clearance machine is going to be faster. The drones, however, don’t damage the crop like a high clearance machine would.”

Tesdell says attendees also saw saturated buffer strips on his farm and learned about watershed conservation programs. The Iowa Soybean Association was on-hand to discuss how saturated buffers work and the role they play in the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy.

“What we are trying to do here, there is no benefit to us trying to clean up our own tile water, but it benefits people down the line,” said Tesdell. “We would hope that people upstream from us would take into consideration water quality, putting in some of these practices and trying to denitrify. We’re just trying to be good citizens.”

The field day concluded with lunch, conversation, and a visit from the Heartland Co-op Conservation Trailer. A video feature from the event can be viewed below.

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