State Offers Up To $85/Acre For Farmers To Plant Cover Crops

Top Features Include Record Funding, Increased Rates, No Acreage Caps for the Traditional Cover Crop Program

ANNAPOLIS (June 5, 2008) - Farmers who plant cover crops this fall to reduce nutrient runoff, control soil erosion and protect water quality in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries may be eligible to receive up to $85 an acre in cost-share grants through the Maryland Department of Agriculture's (MDA) 2007-2008 Winter Cover Crop Program. Sign-up for the statewide program will take place from June 23 through July 8, 2008 at local soil conservation district offices.

"Cover crops are one of the most cost-effective and environmentally sustainable ways to protect the Bay and its tributaries from nutrient runoff," said Governor Martin O'Malley. "With the passage of the 2010 Chesapeake Bay Trust Fund, we are staying true to our priorities of protecting the environment and strengthening family businesses and farms. The record $18 million in funding will help farmers offset higher planting and fuel costs associated with planting cover crops."

"Available funding this year will allow farmers to plant nearly 500,000 acres in protective cover crops this fall, including in some targeted watersheds," said Maryland Agriculture Secretary Roger L. Richardson. "We applaud the foresight of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the Maryland Grain Producers Association, the Maryland Farm Bureau and the other advocates who backed the fund this year in the legislature on behalf of farmers and the bay. Their efforts have really helped to expand the cover crop program for the benefit of water and soil quality."

Under the Traditional Cover Crop Program, a menu of environmental factors such as early planting will increase the reimbursement rate. This year there is no acreage limit. Maximum cost-share benefits of up to $85 an acre will be awarded to farmers in priority watersheds who plant their cover crops by October 1, use tillage methods that maximize soil to seed contact and follow other environmental guidelines. A base funding rate of $40 an acre applies in most cases and cost-share funding of up to $75 an acre is available to farmers who plant by October 15. Farmers who plant by November 5 will be eligible to receive up to $70 an acre in cost-share funding. Certain restrictions apply. Traditional cover crops may not be harvested; however, they may be grazed or chopped for livestock forage for on-farm use after becoming well established. All Traditional Cover Crop payments will be made in the spring.

A Commodity Cover Crop Program is available to farmers who want to harvest their cover crops. Up to 300 acres may be enrolled using a separate application. Standby acres will be accepted and may be enrolled if funds are available after regular sign-up ends. Eligible farmers must plant by November 5, 2008 to receive $30 an acre. Payments for the Commodity Cover Crop Program will be made in the fall.

Cover crops are cereal grains that may be planted immediately following the fall harvest of corn, soybeans, sorghum, tobacco or vegetables. Barley, canola, rapeseed, kale, rye, ryegrass, spring oats, triticale, and wheat planted in the fall of 2008 are eligible. Special incentives are available to farmers who plant rye. All seed used is required to meet Maryland Seed Law and Regulatory Standards and have a minimum germination rate of 80 percent.

The 2008-2009 Maryland Cover Crop Program is administered by MDA through the Maryland Agricultural Water Quality Cost-Share (MACS) Program and funded largely by the 2010 Chesapeake Bay Trust Fund and the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund. Applicants must be in good standing with MACS to participate and must be in compliance with the Nutrient Management Program.

Farmers should contact their local soil conservation district office to enroll before the July 8, 2008 sign-up deadline. For more information, contact the MACS office at 410-841-5864.

Source: Maryland Department of Agriculture's (MDA)

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