Maryland set to take Cover Crop Program sign-ups starting June 21st

14 June 2024- The Maryland Department of Agriculture has announced the annual sign-up period for the Cover Crop Program will take place at soil conservation district offices statewide from June 21 through July 17, 2024. One of the department’s most popular initiatives, the program provides farmers with cost-share assistance to offset seed, labor, and equipment costs to plant fall cover crops protecting local water quality, building healthy soils, and capturing carbon from the atmosphere. Grants are available to farmers who plant a variety of small grains, brassicas, and forage radish on their fields following the fall harvest. To help create diversity, eligible cover crop species may be mixed with radish and legumes, including clover, Austrian winter peas, and hairy vetch, using a variety of two- and three-species mixes. The department has allocated approximately $20 million for its 2024-2025 Cover Crop Program.

“This year, we are providing higher incentive payments to farmers who use highly valued cover crop planting practices that deliver increased water quality and soil health benefits,” said Maryland Agriculture Secretary Kevin Atticks. “For soil health farmers, our Cover Crop Plus+ option offers enhanced payment options for cover crops planted in the same field for three years.”  

Fall-planted cover crops are not just a farming practice; they are a vital part of maintaining the health of the Chesapeake Bay and the productivity of soil resources. As cover crops grow, they recycle unused plant nutrients from the preceding summer crop while fortifying the soil for spring planting. Once established, cover crops will work all winter to combat erosion, supply the soil with organic matter, reduce weeds and pests, and protect fields from drought and extreme rainfall. As an added environmental bonus, cover crops help to mitigate climate change by removing CO2 from the atmosphere and storing it in the soil. 

Farmers who sign up for the Traditional Cover Crop Program can receive up to $105/acre in cost-share grants to plant cover crops in their fields this fall. This includes a $50/acre base rate and up to $55/acre in incentives. The maximum payment for aerial seeding with incentives is $90/acre. A late-season planting option pays a flat rate of $40/acre. Certain restrictions apply. 

The Cover Crop Plus+ option offers enhanced rates to farmers who agree to plant a multi-species cover crop in the same field for three consecutive years using conservation tillage practices that leave at least 30 percent crop residue. The base rate is $125/acre. A combination of add-on conservation practices increases the maximum payment to $180/acre. 

Cover crop grants are administered by the department’s Conservation Grants Program and the state’s 23 soil conservation districts. Applicants must be in good standing with the program and in compliance with Maryland’s nutrient management regulations. A completed and signed Current Nutrient Management Plan Certification is required at signup. Other restrictions and conditions apply. Funding for the 2024-2025 Cover Crop Program is provided by the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund and the Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays Trust Fund.

Farmers should contact their local soil conservation district by July 17 to apply in person for our cover crop grants. Those who participated in last year’s program should check their mailboxes for an information packet. For details on the Traditional Cover Crop Program, please contact Dawn Bradley at 443-978-3302 or dawn.bradley@maryland.gov. For more information on our Cover Crop Plus grants, please contact Sarel Cousins at 410-980-6697 or sarel.cousins2@maryland.gov. Additional information is also available on the department’s website.