Conservation > Cover Crop Program

 Sign-up for the 2014-2015 Cover Crop Program is closed. Welcome mailers will be sent to enrolled farmers in August. Please see the Cover Crop Contractors Directory at right.


Cover crops provide a triple play for farmers who want to improve water quality in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries and increase the productivity of their farmland. In the fall, cold-hardy cereal grains and brassicas are planted as cover crops in newly harvested fields. As they grow, cover crops recycle unused plant nutrients remaining in the soil from the previous summer crop, protect fields against wind and water erosion, and improve the soil for next year's crop. 

Maryland's nutrient management regulations require farmers to plant cover crops when organic nutrient sources are applied to fields in 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. 


The Maryland Agricultural Water-Quality Cost-Share (MACS) Program provides grants to help farmers offset seed, labor and equipment costs associated with planting cover crops. This year, Maryland has earmarked approximately $20 million for the cover crop program. There are two ways to participate. Farmers who plant traditional cover crops receive a base rate of $45/acre and up to $55/acre in add on incentives for using highly valued planting practices. Harvested cover crops qualify for $25/acre with a bonus payment of $10/acre if rye is used exclusively as the cover crop. Other restrictions apply. 


  June 24 – July 15, 2014 at soil conservation district offices statewide.


-Cover crops may be planted after corn, soybeans, sorghum, tobacco or vegetables are harvested.
-There is a five acre minimum, but no acreage cap.
-Plant by November 5, 2014. Early planting incentives are offered.
-Barley, canola, rapeseed, kale, rye, ryegrass, spring oats, triticale, forage radish and wheat may be used as cover crops.
-New this year, farmers may mix any approved cover crop species. Cereal grain and forage mixes must be planted at a seeding rate of 60/40. The species with the earliest planting date determines the planting deadline. Mixes containing rye do not qualify for the $10/acre rye incentive
-All seed purchased for cover crops must be tested and labeled in accordance with Maryland Seed Law and Regulations.
-Seed must be free of prohibited noxious weed seeds, have a minimum germination rate of 80 percent and have no more than 16 restricted noxious weeds per pound.
-Homegrown seed must  be tested prior to planting for germination and noxious weeds by the Maryland State Seed Laboratory.
-Cost-share for seed testing is provided at 50 percent (up to $15). The current year's seed tag for all purchased seed must be attached to the fall certification.
-Applicants must be in good standing with MACS and in compliance with nutrient management regulations. ​  


Traditional cover crops may not be harvested, but may be grazed or chopped for on-farm livestock forage after becoming well established. Kill-down/suppression may take place any time after March 1, 2015, but no later than June 1, 2015. Traditional cover crops qualify for add-on incentive payments if certain environmental guidelines are met.
Base Payment: $45/acre with add-on incentives for using highly valued planting practices (see payment chart below).
Acreage Cap: None.
Manure Use: Yes, in accordance with nutrient management requirements in the fall, however, no incentives are offered and certain restrictions apply.
Certification with SCD: Within one week of planting and no later than November 12, 2014.
Killdown/Suppression: Between March 1 and June 1, 2015.


This program option is available to farmers who want to harvest their cover crops. Farmers should provide their best estimate of acres they plan to harvest on their applications.
Payment: $25/acre; $10/acre bonus if rye is planted exclusively as the cover crop (no mixes).
Acreage Cap: None.
Fertilizer Application: After March 1, 2015. Early fertilization at green up is prohibited.
Certification with SCD: Within one week of planting and no later than November 12, 2014.

The 2014-2015 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.