Sign-up for Maryland's state-funded cover crop program began Monday. The nation's most lucrative and extensively used statewide program offers close to $20 million in incentives for farmers to plant crops this fall to conserve nutrients, reduce soil erosion and protect water quality in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.
The conservation grants help farmers offset cover crop planting costs. Traditional cover crops qualify for up to $100 an acre with add-on incentive payments for using highly-valued planting practices.
Harvested cover crops qualify for $25 to $35 per acre.
Sign-up runs through July 15 at local soil conservation districts. For more information, contact Maryland Department of Agriculture at 410-841-5864 or www.mda.maryland.gov .The three-week sign-up window will be the only one, according to Maryland Department of Agriculture officials.
Cover crops are one of the most cost effective practices for keeping nitrogen and phosphorus out of the Bay. For the third year in a row, Maryland farmers have planted more than 400,000 acres of protective cover crops on their farms. In 2013, farmers exceeded Maryland's 2013 Chesapeake Bay milestone commitment by 17%.
"This program is a mainstay of Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts," reports Ag Secretary Buddy Hance. "This year, the program takes on extra importance. Maryland's newly revised nutrient management regulations require farmers to plant cover crops when organic nutrient sources are applied to fields in the fall."
Cover your options
Choose from two management options – traditional or harvested cover crops. Traditional cover crops receive a base rate of $45 per acre plus up to $55 per acre in add-on incentives for using highly valued planting practices. These crops 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.
You may fill out one application to enroll in both program options. No enrollment caps, But certain restrictions apply. Applicants must be in good standing with the Maryland Agricultural Water Quality Cost-Share Program to participate and be in compliance with the Nutrient Management Program.
What's a cover crop?
By Maryland definition, cover crops are cereal grains and winter annual brassicas (plants in the cabbage family) that are planted to take up nutrients remaining in/on the soil after harvest of corn, soybeans, sorghum, tobacco or vegetables. Barley, canola, rapeseed, kale, rye, ryegrass, forage radish, spring oats, triticale and wheat planted this fall are eligible.
You may use saved seed. But all seed used is required to meet Maryland Seed Law and Regulatory Standards and have a minimum germination rate of 80%.
For more on cover crop strengths and weaknesses, see "Move to mixes for maximum benefits with cover crops" in the March issue of American Agriculturist, or click here .