Cover crop pro­gram con­tin­ues its suc­cess

State helps farm­ers pro­tect lo­cal wa­ters, Ch­e­sa­peake Bay

Baltimore Sun - - NEWS - By Michel El­ben

Chop­ping corn in a West­min­ster field, farmer Josh Sell­ers pre­pared his acreage for this year’s cover crops.

More than 1,800 Mary­land farm­ers vis­ited state soil con­ser­va­tion dis­trict of­fices to ap­ply for grants to plant nearly 700,000 acres of pro­tec­tive cover crops on their fields this fall, the state De­part­ment of Agri­cul­ture re­ported.

The ef­fort is in­tended to re­duce nu­tri­ent runoff, con­trol soil ero­sion and pro­tect wa­ter qual­ity in streams, rivers and the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay.

The fed­eral En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency es­tab­lished nu­tri­ent and sed­i­ment lim­its for the bay in 2010. Mary­land farm­ers have ex­ceeded ev­ery goal for cover crops since then. And based on Cover Crop Pro­gram sign-up fig­ures, they’re on track to ex­ceed the next two-year mile­stone, to be com­pleted by June 2017.

Of­fi­cials say cover crops are one of the most cost-ef­fec­tive means of help­ing to re­store the bay.

“Year after year, our farm­ers demon­strate their com­mit­ment to clean wa­ter and healthy nat­u­ral re­sources by plant­ing cover crops on their fields,” Mary­land Agri­cul­ture Sec­re­tary Joe Barten­felder said.

Bryan But­ler is Car­roll County ex­ten­sion agent for the Univer­sity of Mary­land Ex­ten­sion.

“Once the crop is har­vested,” he said, “plant­ing a cover crop uti­lizes ex­cess nu­tri­ents, like phos­pho­rus and ni­tro­gen, from the pre­vi­ous crop.

“Cover crops also cover the soil and you make a veg­e­ta­tive blan­ket ... that re­duces ero­sion.”

The state Cover Crop Pro­gram gives farm­ers grants to plant small grains such as wheat, rye or bar­ley im­me­di­ately after har­vest­ing the sum­mer crops of corn, soy­beans and other veg­eta­bles.

The grants help off­set the costs of seed, la­bor and equip­ment. The crops must be planted by Nov. 5 and cer­ti­fied with the soil con­ser­va­tion dis­trict by Nov. 14 to qual­ify for pay­ment.

The state has al­lo­cated $22.5 mil­lion for the 2016-2017 Cover Crop Pro­gram.

Doug Dell said he would plant rye and Josh Sell­ers chops corn for silage in a field off Old Bachman Val­ley Road in West­min­ster that was sched­uled to be planted with cover crops Wed­nes­day. wheat as cover crops on his West­min­ster farm, and might try for­age radishes.

He said most cover crops leave nice holes, which help to soften the soil.

“The cover crop dies and the root sys­tem dies too,” Dell said. “The roots leave lit­tle aer­a­tion holes and makes it eas­ier for the next crops’ roots to go in.”

Matt Hoff of New Wind­sor, the owner of Cold­springs Farms, said he has en­rolled 2,200 acres of cover crop this year. He plans to plant trit­i­cale, a hy­brid of wheat and rye, along with for­age radishes and clover.

“We’ve been plant­ing cover crop for a very long time,” Hoff said. He said his farm will chop some of the trit­i­cale for cows.

“It makes tons of feed and it’s a reg­u­lar part of their diet,” he said.

Hoff said cover crops ben­e­fit the wa­ters of Car­roll County, and be­yond.

“The No. 1 rea­son the state helps pay for it is that it’s the best bang for their buck to re­duce nu­tri­ents and sed­i­ment that might end up in the bay,” Hoff said.

DY­LAN SLA­GLE/BALTIMORE SUN ME­DIA GROUP PHO­TOS

Corn is chopped for silage in a field near West­min­ster be­fore the field is planted with cover crops. Mary­land farm­ers have en­rolled nearly 700,000 acres for cover crops this year.

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