Maryland Department of Agriculture's 2015-2016 Cover Crop Sign-Up program is already underway. Enrollment at Soil Conservation District offices for the $22 million program winds up July 15.
The popular statewide provides grants to help offset seed, labor and fall planting equipment costs. The program is proven to help control soil erosion, reduce nutrient runoff and protect water quality in streams, rivers and the Chesapeake Bay.
More varieties and mixes are in the mix for this year, according to Norman Astle, MDA's cover crop program administrator. This year, cover crop mixes containing crimson clover, Australian winter peas or hairy vetch are eligible for grants.
The program offers two planting options: Traditional cover crops receive a base rate of $45 per acre and up to $45 per 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 per acre, with a bonus payment of $10 per 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," says Maryland Ag Secretary Joseph Bartenfelder. To participate, applicants must be in good standing with Maryland's Agricultural Water Quality Cost-Share) Program and in compliance with the state's nutrient management program.
How they work
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. 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. Last fall, Maryland farmers planted a record 478,000 acres of cover crops.
The program has the full support of Governor Larry Hogan, who notes: "Maryland farmers' proactive steps to protect our natural resources make them national leaders for conservation practices. This helped prevent roughly 3 million pounds of nitrogen and 95,000 pounds of phosphorus from impacting Maryland waterways."
For more on this record-setting accomplishment and how it fits Burrier Farms management plans, click on