Md. eases cover crop program rules

May 17, 2006

A harvest option tops the list of new features available to farmers who sign up for the Maryland Department of Agriculture's 2006-2007 Maryland Cover Crop Program.

Eligible farmers can receive cost-share assistance ranging from $20 to $50 an acre to plant cover crops this fall to help absorb unused crop nutrients remaining in the soil after fall harvest and act as a ground cover to keep the soil from washing away in winter.

An extended signup for the statewide program begins June 12 and ends July 28 at the Washington County Soil Conservation District office. It is at 1260 Maryland Ave., Suite 101, in Hagerstown.

"New rules allowing the application of animal manure to cover crop acres are of particular importance to Washington County's dairy and beef farmers," said Elmer Weibley, manager of the county Soil Conservation District.


"In the past, the rules were much more restrictive than this year's program," Weibley said.

"The new program for this year will give greater flexibility on manure spreading on cover crops as long as it is done in accordance with an approved nutrient management plan. This should allow greater participation by our animal-based agriculture operators.

"Local farmers have said from the beginning of the cover crop program that if they were allowed to spread manure on their cover crop acres, they would be able to plant more acres. This year's program changes recognize this need," he said.

In addition, the local Soil Conservation District is developing a program to coordinate the aerial application of cover crop seed into stands of corn and soybeans to allow for earlier planting of cover crops and to encourage the planting of more acres of this important best management practice, Weibley said.

"Currently we are not aware of any farmers in Washington County that seed cover crops by air," he said.

Weibley said aerial seeding has always been an option in the cover crop program, but has been used primarily on Maryland's Eastern Shore because of the topography and large acreages available for seeding.

"The benefits of aerial seeding into corn and soybeans before they are harvested is the ability to plant the cover crops earlier and, therefore, meet cost-share program goals for planting dates and nutrient uptake," he said.

"Our local farmers generally can't get all their crops harvested by the cover crop planting deadlines so working with them to coordinate aerial seeding will keep them free to continue harvesting their crops and, as they harvest their crops that have been aerially seeded, they will incorporate the seed into the soil without having to make another trip across the field to plant the cover crop.

"This will save time and fuel and represent a real savings to the farmer with what fuel currently costs," he said.

Weibley said his agency is going to try to help farmers by coordinating the aerial seeding with local companies who provide this service.

"This will remove some of the barriers to this practice that have limited its use in Washington County. We should be able to put together larger areas to be planted and, on behalf of the farmer and aerial seeding company, coordinate the planning for and planting of the cover crops from the air," he said.

Farmers could receive up to $40 per acre to cover the cost of seed and the aerial seeding, he said.

Statewide, more than $8 million in cover crop funds will be available to farmers this fall through a combination of sources including the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund and a special supplement to the Department of Agriculture budget, according to Governor Robert L. Ehrlich.

"This funding represents a 100 percent increase over last year's cover crop budget," Ehrlich said.

Agriculture Secretary Lewis R. Riley said that in addition to the harvest option, "also new this year are larger acreage caps, an extended sign-up period and less paperwork to file for early planting bonuses."

The new Commodity Cover Crop Program is for farmers who want to harvest their cover crop. Up to 500 acres may be enrolled, Riley said.

Farmers may also plant up to 1,000 acres per farm in the conventional cover crop program with unlimited stand-by acreage. Cover crop cereal grains may be planted immediately following the fall harvest of corn, soybeans, sorghum, tobacco or vegetables.

Riley said research indicates that cover crops planted in early fall provide the greatest water quality benefits. Therefore, the earlier farmers get their cover crops planted, the higher their reimbursement rate will be, he said.

Farmers who plant their cover crops by Oct. 1 are eligible to receive cost-share funding of $50 an acre; by Oct. 15, it is $40 an acre; and by Nov. 5, it is $30 an acre.

An application that can be faxed to local soil conservation district offices is available at

Barley, canola, rapeseed, rye, ryegrass, spring oats, triticale, brassicas (kale) and wheat planted in the fall of 2006 are eligible.

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