Cover crop program continues its success
State helps farmers protect local waters, Chesapeake Bay
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.
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.