Maryland farm cover crop sign-up period to open June 21

The annual sign-up period for the Maryland Department of Agriculture’s Cover Crop Program will take place from June 21 through July 17 at soil conservation district offices statewide.

The grant program provides farmers with cost-share assistance to offset seed, labor, and equipment costs to plant fall cover crops to protect local water quality, build healthy soils, and capture carbon from the atmosphere.

“This planting season, we are excited to offer new incentive payments to plant mixed species to help farmers increase biodiversity and protect against weather extremes,” said Maryland Department of Agriculture Secretary Kevin Atticks. “For the tech-savvy farmer, we’ve added drones as an efficient and cost-effective aerial seeding option.”

Fall-planted cover crops provide a range of water quality, soil health, and climate benefits.

“In addition to protecting local streams and the Chesapeake Bay from nutrient and sediment runoff, they also add organic matter to the soil, control weeds and pests, and help protect fields from too much or too little rain. Cover crops can also absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it in the soil to help mitigate climate change,” said program organizers.

Maryland’s Cover Crop Program provides grants to farmers who plant a variety of small grains and other types of cover crops 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.

2023-2024 program highlights include:

—Minimum payment for incorporated seed raised to $60/acre

—Incentive payment to plant rye and mixed species increased to $20/acre

—Triticale qualifies for a $20/acre incentive

—Drones are a new aerial seeding option

—Qualifying farmers must plant at least 10 acres to be eligible for cover crop grants

—For a second year, enhanced payment options are available through the multiyear Cover Crop

—Plus+ Program which encourages biodiversity, residue management, and promotes soil health.

Approximately $20 million for Maryland’s 2023-2024 Cover Crop Program has been allocated.

Through the program, eligible farmers can receive up to $105 an acre in cost-share grants to plant traditional cover crops in their fields this fall. This includes a base rate of $55 an acre and up to $55 an acre in add-on incentives for using highly-valued planting practices. The maximum payment for aerial seeding with add-on incentive payments is $100 an acre.

The program has returned to in-person grant registration at local soil conservation district offices to improve customer service.

Washington County’s Soil Conservation District is located at 1260 Maryland Avenue, Suite 101 in Hagerstown. They can be reached by phone at 301-797-6821, ext. 3.

Farmers who participated in last year’s cover crop program should check their mailboxes for an application packet containing information on the required documents for registration.

Maryland’s Cover Crop Program is administered by the department’s Conservation Grants Program and the state’s 24 soil conservation districts. Applicants must be in good standing with the program and in compliance with Maryland’s nutrient management regulations. Other restrictions and conditions apply. Funding for the 2023-2024 Cover Crop Program is provided by the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund and the Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays Trust Fund.

Farmers should contact their local soil conservation district by July 17 to complete their grant applications.

For more information, call Dawn Bradley at 443-978-3302 or email dawn.bradley@maryland. gov or go to the department’s website.