SOUTHWEST WISCONSIN - Led by Adam Kramer of Black Sand Granary of Patch Grove, aerial application of cover crop seed in the Driftless Region saw an exponential increase in number of acres planted and tons of soil saved in 2019.
Planting cover crops has grown in popularity with producers for a variety of financial and conservation reasons. Cover crops help to build soil health and structure, which helps to reduce need for expensive agricultural inputs and promotes yields. Cover crops also help the soil to hold more water, which prevents runoff and erosion. They also capture nutrients that could otherwise wind up in ground and surface waters.
The successful aerial cover crop program was launched originally in 2013 as a joint project of the Crawford County Land Conservation Department and Crawford County USDA-NRCS. County Conservationist David Troester and USDA-NRCS District Conservationist Karyl Fritsche worked together to grow the program between 2014 and 2018.
The Driftless Region presents certain challenges for aerial applicators. The region’s contours, and field sizes and locations had prevented any major aerial applications in the past. Ag Tech Air from Stockton, Ill., decided to take on the challenge and has successfully served the program every year since its’ inception.
In 2019, Troester and Fritsche made the decision to transition the program to Black Sand Granary, and the success of the program in 2019 speaks for the wisdom of that decision.
“Partnering with a private industry partner, like Black Sand Granary, is what really propels programs like the aerial cover crop program forward,” USDA-NRCS District Conservationist Karyl Fritsche said. “Adam has grown the program and driven the cost per acre down for producers from $60 per acre to $57.25 per acre, and this is a model we’d like to employ with other programs that we run.”
The federal-county-private partnership that has yielded such impressive results is the only one of its kind in the State of Wisconsin.
Overall, 27 percent more producers participated in the program in 2019 versus 2018. That increase in participation resulted in 57 percent increases in total number of acres planted and tons of soil saved.
The number of acres planted in 2019 was 15,475, growing 11,471 acres from the 4,274 acres planted in 2018. The tons of soil saved in 2019 was 20,706, growing 11,731 tons from the 8,975 tons saved in 2018.
All of the seed used in the program was grown by Biddick, Inc., out of Livingston. This means that the seed is all grown within 100 miles of the application area, making it ideally adapted to the local growing area.
The program also expanded in geographic area from mainly Crawford County, and a little bit of northern Grant County and southern Vernon County. In 2019, acres were also planted in Richland County and Allamakee County in Iowa.
To service all these new producers and areas, the number of airports that the aerial application plane flew out of increased as well. In 2014 to 2018, the operation was run entirely out of the Boscobel Airport. In 2019, flights were also launched out of the Prairie du Chien and Lancaster airports.
“The majority of growth in acres in 2019 came out of Grant County,” Black Sand Granary owner Adam Kramer said. “Our hope is to expand the project to other producers and potentially other counties looking for a similar service.”
Kramer said that his goal is to plant 15,000 total acres in 2020. When this growth is achieved, it would increase the total acres planted to 30,475 acres, which would constitute a 51 percent increase.
He said that the service he offers could do more acres than that if there is interest. To sign up for aerial cover crop application for the 2020 season, producers should contact Black Sand Granary, Adam Kramer, 608-412-5669, or on the internet at www.blacksandgranary.com or on their Facebook page atwww.facebook.com/blacksandgranary.
One service Black Sand Granary provides that has helped to propel growth in their business is streamlining the federal paperwork for their clients. This helped to stimulate growth in participation levels for the family-owned agronomy provider.
Cost share funding
Another great statistic demonstrating the growth in this popular program is the increase in USDA Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) funds which help producers pay part of the cost of cover crop installation.
In one year, the dollar amount of EQIP spending on cover crop installation more than doubled. The amount of EQIP funding in 2018 was $298,155, and in 2019 it was $612,041.
At this time USDA-NRCs has a nationwide continuous sign up for EQIP funds. This means producers can sign up now for funding for 2020 planting. According to USDA-NRCS District Conservationist for Crawford County, “signing up now in the last few weeks of 2019 will really speed up the process since it is traditionally a slower time for both producers and for agency staff.”
For Crawford County producers, call Karyl Fritsche at 608-326-7179, ext. 109, or visit the USDA-NRCS office in Prairie du Chien at 37500 U.S. Highway 18, Ste. 2, Prairie du Chien, WI 53821.
For Grant County, call Joe Schmelz at 608-723‐6377, ext. 130, or visit the USDA-NRCS office in Lancaster at150 W. Alona Lane, Lancaster, WI 53813.
For Vernon County, call Sam Skemp at 608) 637-2183, ext. 219, or visit the USDA-NRCS office in Viroqua at 220 Airport Road, Viroqua, WI 54665.For Richland County, call Carlton Peterson at 608-647-8874, ext. 111, or visit the USDA-NRCS office in Richland Center at26136 Executive Lane, Suite 105A, Richland Center, WI 53581.