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Maryland Farmers Shatter Cover Crop Planting Record: Approach 500,000 Acre Milestone

ANNAPOLIS, MD – Maryland farmers planted a record-setting 492,244 acres of cover crops on their fields last fall as part of the Maryland Department of Agriculture’s 2015-2016 Cover Crop Program, breaking the previous record of 475,560 acres planted last year. Cover crops are widely recognized as one of the most cost-effective and environmentally sustainable ways for farmers to meet nutrient and sediment reduction targets outlined in Maryland’s Watershed Implementation Plan to protect and restore the Chesapeake Bay by 2025.

“Maryland farmers believe in the environmental and agronomic benefits of planting cover crops on their fields to improve the soil, recycle unused plant nutrients, control erosion, and protect local waterways,” said Secretary Joe Bartenfelder. “This is the sixth consecutive year that farmers have planted more than 400,000 acres of cover crops on their fields.”

In 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency established nutrient and sediment limits for the Chesapeake Bay known as the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL). Maryland and the other Bay jurisdictions are working to meet these pollution thresholds by implementing their Watershed Implementation Plans. To date, Maryland farmers have exceeded all three sets of Bay milestone commitments for cover crops outlined in the State’s Watershed Implementation Plan.

The Maryland Department of Agriculture’s Cover Crop Program provides grants to farmers who plant small grains such as wheat, rye or barley, or brassicas (plants in the cabbage family) on their fields following the fall harvest. Grants help offset seed, labor and equipment costs associated with planting cover crops.  In 2015, cover crop mixes containing legumes were introduced to help create diversity and give farmers more planting options.  As they grow, cover crops protect water quality by recycling unused plant nutrients remaining in the soil from the preceding summer crop. Once established, cold-hardy cover crops work all winter to shield fields against erosion caused by wind, rain, snow and ice. Collectively, the 492,244 acres of cover crops planted will prevent an estimated 2.95 million pounds of nitrogen, and 98,500 pounds of phosphorus from reaching Maryland waterways.

Click here for a breakdown by county of acreage planted. The top counties ranked by certified acreage planted:

  • Queen Anne’s 59,716.6
  • Kent 54,952.2
  • Talbot 51,547.8
  • Caroline 42,505.7
  • Dorchester 40,884.4

Maryland’s Cover Crop Program is administered by the Maryland Department of Agriculture and the state’s 24 soil conservation districts through the Maryland Agricultural Water Quality Cost-Share (MACS) Program. It is funded by the Chesapeake Bay 2010 Trust Fund and the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund.  Applicants must be in good standing with the cost-share program to participate and in compliance with Maryland’s nutrient management regulations. The sign up period for the 2016-2017 Cover Crop Program will take place in June 2016. Farmers should check the department’s website for updates at mda.maryland.gov.

Click for a short video featuring a farmer’s point of view on cover crop benefits.

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