Md.’s cover crop program now includes new plants

Senior Editor

(July 7, 2015) There’s a new look to Maryland’s cover crop program.
Under the program, administered by the Maryland Department of Agriculture, small grains such as wheat, rye or barley, brassicas and forage radish are planted immediately following the fall harvest on fields that would otherwise be barren.
For the 1915-16 program and for the first time, legumes — crimson clover, Austrian winter peas and hairy vetch — will be added to the updated list.
For the coming year, MDA has an estimated $22 million to fund the program.
Sign-ups began June 24 and will close July 15. Producers can enroll at soil conservation district offices statewide.
The cover crop 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.
“Maryland farmers’ proactive steps to protect our natural resources make them national leaders for conservation practices,” said Gov. Larry 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.”
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.
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 2015-16 Cover Crop Program offers two planting options for farmers.
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 [er 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.