Home 5 Ag Stories East central Iowa farmer uses drone to broadcast cover crops

East central Iowa farmer uses drone to broadcast cover crops

Photo by Anna Hastert

An east central Iowa farmer dedicated to soil health uses a new tool to apply cover crops.

Mitchell Hora, founder of Continuum Ag, values data.

“I like data,” Hora said. “It helps guide our decisions, helping to logistically and economically improve our operations. If it doesn’t make us money, offer a return on investment,  it doesn’t work. We’re trying to run businesses here, (and) that’s why we use data, to show what we’re doing is right.”

Hora’s collects data through soil health testing and soil sampling. He recently set-up a 60-row corn configuration, in an effort to better understand the differences and similarities of early planted and late planted cover crop seeds.

“I planted two rows of 30-inch corn, then turned the third row off. Plant two, skip one. Essentially, I have 45-inches of corn, 45-inches of gap. Because of the gap, I want to make sure we have something growing out there. I have sunlight penetration through the canopy. It’s not fully shaded out, and I want to make sure I don’t have weeds. I don’t want to leave the soil bare…ever,” Hora said. 

Hora, who refuses to “farm naked,” or leave fields bare, utilizes cover crops. This sustainable practice has played an integral role throughout his farming operation over the past four years. He looks to learn something new about this practice through extended trials. 

Hora recently inquired about a unique method for broadcasting cover crop seeds. 

Rantizo, a drone application company, uses large drones to deliver agricultural solutions. The Ag startup, based in Iowa City, recently developed a spreader to dispense agricultural solids, such as cover crop seeds. Rantizo demonstrated its products capabilities Monday at Hora’s 40-acre plot.

“I have a 40-acre chunk I bought two years ago, and (am) doing a bunch of experiments with. We are trying to practice what we preach when it comes to soil health and cover crops,” Hora said. “We spread some cover crops five- to six-weeks ago. They’re up and look good. We’re doing some early seeded and later seeded. We have a seven- to eight-way mix of cover.”

Hora discusses the logistics behind this new application method. 

“We had three-tenths of rain come in a couple days ago, but haven’t had anything like that for about four weeks. Ideally, we would fly this cover crop on ahead of rain,” Hora said. “Fly it on, have the seed there, get a little shot of rain and the seed will go. For us, the seed will sit there and wait. That’s fine. There was some weeds growing, especially foxtail. We did spray it off with a shot of Roundup. The grasses out there now are going to die down, and shade and cover that seed. Maybe that will help us catch some dew and provide us a little bit of insulation to get the cover crop to grow.”

Hora foresees broader use of this application for cover crop seeding on his operation.

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