Cover Crop Program

Cover Crop Sign

WHY PLANT COVER CROPS?

Cover crops are important to the health of the Chesapeake Bay and the productivity of Maryland's farmland. In the fall, cold hardy cereal grains such as wheat, rye and barley are planted as cover crops in newly harvested fields. Once established, cover crops recycle unused plant nutrients remaining in the soil from the previous summer crop and protect fields against wind and water erosion. In addition to their water quality benefits, cover corps improve soil health, increase organic matter in the soil, reduce weeds and pests and provide habitat for beneficial insects.
 

GRANTS TO PLANT COVER CROPS

To help offset seed, labor and equipment costs associated with planting cover corps, the Maryland Agricultural Water Quality Cost-Share (MACS) Program provides farmers with grants to plant small grains and brassicas on their fields immediately following the summer crop harvest. MACS offers a traditional cover crop program, which does not allow harvest, and a commodity program for farmers who want to harvest their cover crops. Cover crops sign-up is held in early summer at soil conservation district (SCD) offices. Cost-share rates vary from year to year, however, in recent years harvested cover crops paid an average rate of $25/acre while traditional cover crops ranged from $45/acre to $100/acre. MDA provides cover crop farmers with field signs to place on their properties.

GUIDELINES 

  • Plant cover crops after corn, soybeans, sorghum, tobacco or vegetables are harvested.
  • The planting deadline is early November. Incentives are available to farmers who plant cover crops in October.
  • Five acre minimum, but no acreage caps.
  • Barley, canola, rapeseed, kale, rye, ryegrass, spring oats, triticale, forage radish and wheat may be used as cover crops.
  • All seed purchased must be tested and labeled in accordance with Maryland Seed Law and regulations.
  • If homegrown seed is used, it must be tested prior to planting for germination and noxious weeds by the Maryland State Seed Lab.
  • The current year's seed tag for all purchased seed must be attached to the fall certification.
  • Fertilizer applications are prohibited in fall and before March 1.
  • Applicants must be in good standing with MACS and in compliance with nutrient management requirements.

SIGN UP 

Farmers who want to participate in the Cover Crop Program must sign up at their local soil conservation district (SCD) during the annual enrollment window, which takes place in early summer. In June, farmers should check this website or contact their SCD for the current year's sign-up details.

PLANTING DEADLINES AND INCENTIVES

Incentives are available for early planting. All cover crops must be planted by specified dates in early November to qualify for payment and ensure their success. Additional incentives are available for using highly valued planting practices.
 

CERTIFICATION REQUIREMENT

To qualify for payment, farmers must certify acres planted with the SCD within one week of planting and after kill down or suppression. SCDs conduct field checks on a percentage of certified acres to verify compliance.


The Cover Crop Program is administered by the Maryland Agricultural Water Quality Cost-Share (MACS) Program and funded by the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund and the Chesapeake Bay 2010 Trust Fund.