The Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA) has announced that its 2015-2016 Cover Crop Sign-Up will take place June 24 through July 15 at soil conservation district (SCD) offices statewide. This popular program provides grants to help farmers offset seed, labor and equipment costs associated with planting cover crops on their fields this fall to control soil erosion, reduce nutrient runoff and protect water quality in streams, rivers and the Chesapeake Bay. New this year, cover crop mixes containing crimson clover, Australian winter peas or hairy vetch are eligible for grants. Governor Larry Hogan has allocated approximately $22 million for MDA’s 2015-2016 Cover Crop Program.
“Maryland farmers’ proactive steps to protect our natural resources make them national leaders for conservation practices,” said Governor Hogan. “Last fall, our farmers planted the largest cover crop in Maryland history, a record 478,000 acres. This helped to prevent roughly 3 million pounds of nitrogen and 95,000 pounds of phosphorus from impacting Maryland waterways. The cover crop program is one of the most cost effective and efficient means to ensuring we have a healthy Bay, which is key to a strong economy and high quality of life – for all Marylanders.”
Cover crops are widely regarded as one of the most cost-effective ways to prevent nitrogen and phosphorus from entering the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. Under the MDA program, small grains such as wheat, rye or barley, brassicas, forage radish, and for the first time, legume mixes are planted immediately following the fall harvest on fields that would otherwise be barren. Once established, cover crops recycle unused plant nutrients remaining in the soil from the previous summer crop, protect fields against wind and water erosion over the winter, and help improve the soil for the next year’s crop.
MDA’s 2015-2016 Cover Crop Program offers two planting options for farmers. Traditional cover crops receive a base rate of $45/acre and up to $45/acre in add on incentives for using highly valued planting practices. They may not be harvested, but can be grazed or chopped for livestock forage for on-farm use after becoming well established. Harvested cover crops qualify for $25/acre with a bonus payment of $10/acre if rye is used as the cover crop.
Maryland’s nutrient management regulations require farmers to plant cover crops when organic nutrient sources are applied to fields in the fall. In addition to their water quality benefits, cover crops improve soil health and water retention, increase organic matter in the soil, reduce weeds and pests and provide habitat for beneficial insects.
“Maryland farmers routinely plant cover crops as part of their crop rotation. It makes sense for their farms and the Bay,” said Maryland Agriculture Secretary Joseph Bartenfelder. “I urge all farmers to visit their soil conservation district to sign up for this important program during our three-week enrollment window. This will be your only opportunity to enroll in this year’s program.”
Farmers should check their mailboxes for information on the 2015-2016 Cover Crop Program. Details are also available at www.mda.maryland.gov under “Hot Topics.”
Maryland’s Cover Crop Program is administered by MDA and the state’s 24 soil conservation districts through the Maryland Agricultural Water Quality Cost-Share (MACS) Program. Funding is provided by the 2010 Chesapeake Bay Trust Fund and the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund. To participate, applicants must be in good standing with MACS and in compliance with the Nutrient Management Program.