ANNAPOLIS, Md. — The annual sign-up period for the Maryland Department of Agriculture’s cover crop program will take place June 21-July 17 at soil conservation district offices statewide. This popular grant program provides farmers with cost-share assistance to offset seed, labor, and equipment costs associated with planting fall cover crops.

This year’s program includes two new incentives for farmers. The first is the Extended Season option which pays $15 per acre to farmers who agree to terminate their cover crops after May 1. There is also a $10 per acre incentive for farmers who hire an airplane or helicopter to aerial seed cover crops into standing corn by September 1.

“Planting cover crops is an effective way to control nutrient runoff, reduce erosion, build healthy soils, and protect water quality,” said Secretary of Agriculture Joe Bartenfelder. “This has been a successful program for our department, and I encourage all farmers to visit their local soil conservation district and learn more about the program’s new incentives and application process.”

Cover crops are important to the health of the Chesapeake Bay and the vitality of Maryland’s valuable soil resources. As they grow, cover crops recycle unused plant nutrients remaining in the soil from the preceding summer crop. Once established, they work all winter to protect fields against erosion spurred by wind, rain, snow and ice. In addition to their water quality benefits, cover crops increase organic matter in the soil, reduce weeds and pests, provide habitat for beneficial insects and help protect fields from too much or too little rain.

The department’s program provides grants to farmers who plant a variety of small grains, brassicas, and forage radish on their fields following the fall harvest. To help create diversity, eligible cover crop species may be mixed with radish and legumes including clover, Austrian winter peas and hairy vetch using a variety of two and three-species mixes.

Eligible farmers can receive up to $90 per acre in cost-share grants to plant traditional cover crops in their fields this fall. This includes a $45 per acre base rate and up to an additional $45 per acre in incentives. A field inspection is required to qualify for the Extended Season incentive. Maximum payment for aerial seeding with incentives is $85 per acre.

Applicants are required to include a completed Current Nutrient Management Plan Certification when applying for cover crop grants. This form must be signed by both the farm operator and the person who prepared the farm’s nutrient management plan. Applicants can download the form from the department’s website at mda.maryland.gov.

Source: Maryland Department of Agriculture.