Farmer Focus: Aerially seeded cover thriving after drought

When it rains, it pours. This summer has proved to be a very dry and challenging season in South Africa.

Ironically, it is now so wet that we are now struggling to harvest this crop that nearly died in the drought!

While the rain is bad for harvesting, it is good for my cover crops. I flew a cover-crop mix (mainly oats and brassica species) over my maize fields a few months ago.

See also: Advice on reducing soil erosion in arable fields

Flying seed over standing maize can be very hit and miss. The trick is to get a good rain on the little seeds on the ground surface to hopefully wash them into a few cracks and to then get a nice cool wet week thereafter.

I find that it is best to wait for the maize to just start to senesce so that a little light can get down to the ground.

This is a very fine line, as if one seeds too soon then it is too dark under the maize canopy but if one waits too long one might miss the summer rains. We get almost no rain in winter.

Sun energy

This year was very different. At the end of January some of the maize was only head height, with lots of sunlight reaching the ground.

I figured that this would be very conducive to weeds, so I might as well sow the cover crop early.

I hoped that this cover crop would compete with the weeds as well as give me good fodder for the winter.

This has been my best ever aerially seed cover crop. It will help dry out the soil for when we come to harvest the maize.

What is truly exciting for me is that I have intercepted many of those gigawatts of sunlight that were being wasted on the ground.

That sun energy has now been used to fix atmospheric carbon dioxide into organic matter which will in turn improve the yield potential of that soil.

I am a little worried that the oats has grown so well that it may cause issues whilst harvesting but I will cross that bridge if I get to it.