Sustainable Helicropping

The practice of helicropping is rapidly developing around New Zealand as a sustainable practice adding flexibility and profitability in the process of developing improved pasture.

Helicropping is aerial no-tillage cropping. Using a suitably equipped helicopter it is cost effective and practical to establish crops or renovate pasture without compromising soil quality. Successful helicropping involves good planning including selecting the best site, integrating the crop with feed demand and pasture renewal planning, and managing risks to germination, seedling establishment and growth with effective weed, pest and fertiliser management. Pilot skill, specialised spray nozzles to limit off-target drift and appropriate fertiliser application equipment will ensure the best chance of a profitable operation.

Helicropping provides multiple benefits for farmers, including protecting the soil structure and soil biology through the no-tillage method.  Helicropping reduces the time to establish a crop/pasture thus increasing the window of opportunity. A 40 ha crop can be established in 6-7 hours.

Considerations to take into account include the travel distance the helicopter will be required to fly.  While crop/pasture establishment costs are similar to no till and tillage you will need access to a nearby helicopter contractor with suitable equipment. Travel distance quickly increases costs.  Also, before any helicropping is undertaken, consider the class of animal to be fed and the terrain to be cropped to reduce the risks of soil degradation and loss. 

 

Figure1; Planning and preparation steps prior to sowing a hill country crop by helicopter

Planning and preparation steps prior to sowing a hill country crop by helicopter

 Figure 2; Sowing and post-emergence activities for a hill country crop sown by helicopter

Sowing and post-emergence activities for a hill country crop sown by helicopter

  

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