People in the West End were wondering what was going on when a helicopter was heard and seen flying about for hours. Some wondered if the police were looking for an escaped convict or missing person.

Actually, the helicopter was spreading seeds by air.

Neal Murphy of Murphys' Farm in Middlecreek, said he and several other farmers were contacted by Ken Harvey of Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) to determine if they wanted to be part of the winter cover crop program. Funding for the program, $45 an acre, comes from the U.S.D.A.

Five farms in the West End agreed for Helicopter Applications of Gettysburg to spread seeds for wheat and rye. They are Gould's Produce, Howell Farms (Carl Nordmeyer), Jeff and son Jay Borger, Serfass Farms and Murphys' Farm (Neal and son Steve.)

Murphy said that he had wheat seeds sown over his soybean and corn fields. By dropping the seeds before both crops are harvested gives the farmers a head start on the winter cover. The seeds will take root after they are harvested.

"We do it before the soybeans lose their leaves. The leaves will then cover the seeds and keep the ground moist to help the seeds germinate," said Murphy.

Murphy said that aerial seeding is nothing new. It had been done about 30 years ago, but then the funding dried up.

Why plant a crop that provides a winter cover in the fields?

"It benefits everybody. The cover prevents erosion from rain and snow. We farmers try to help keep Monroe County 'forever green,'" said Murphy.

The seeding took place in the West End over a period of a couple of days, covering over 700 acres.

Pilot Brock Heffner hovered his helicopter over a work crew as they filled the spreader with seed, then flew off with the spreader dangling about 30 feet below him. He circled around and then flew over a soybean field, releasing the seed. He came back for more seed after each pass over the field.

The former military helicopter is equipped with specialized software. The pilot can tell from a monitor where he is in the field and how much seed is dropped.

"Now hopefully Mother Nature will take over and we'll have a winter cover," said Murphy.