The Iowa Department of Transportation is preparing to seed and fertilize the sides of some roadways to cut down on erosion. Iowa D.O.T. agronomist Ole Skaar says motorists can expect to see some low-flying airplanes in parts of the state as soon as weather permits.

“We don’t want people to be alarmed that there’s a plane flying close to the highway,” Skaar said. “If there are no (power) lines, they can get down within 50 feet from the ground to put the seed in the right place.” The projects to be completed in March include a portion of Highway 30 through Story and Marshall Counties, Highway 29 in Harrison County and a section of the new Highway 20 through Calhoun and Webster Counties.

Skaar says up to 900 acres of land will be seeded along Highway 20. The planes, traveling 60 to 100 miles per hour, usually make several passes over the same area. The seeds include native Iowa prairie grasses and wildflowers. Skaar says late February and early March, when there’s a lot of freezing and thawing, is the ideal time to seed and fertilize.

“That gets the seed worked into the soil,” Skaar said of the freeze/thaw cycle. “Spring rains will give us compaction and then, as soon as the soil is warm enough for germination, our seeding will start growing. That allows us to put the seed down without disturbing the soil any more than possible.” The Iowa D.O.T. has been hiring aviation contractors to do the aerial seeding since the 1970s.