Early this week, Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley and Ag Secretary Buddy Hance, visited a Dorchester County farm to celebrate reaching a record enrollment of 550,000 acres in cover crop acreage. Maryland has approved a record 550,000 acres of winter grains. A record 1,767 farmers, 206 of which were new to the program this year, signed up.
This record acreage represents 155% of the Phase I Watershed Implementation Plan goals for cover crops. Cover crops are touted as one of the most cost-effective means of helping to restore the Chesapeake Bay.
The announcement was made at Lazy Day Farms/Layton's Chance Vineyard & Winery near Vienna, Md. Joe Layton and son Bill manage more than 1,800 acres, including 1,250 acres of grain, 12 acres of grapes and owns/operates the winery.
Although grains such as barley and rye, which take nitrogen from the soil, are often used as cover crops, Joe Layton reported that they'll be adding forage radishes to their wheat seed. "The radish has a deep taproot," he explains. "They're very efficient in taking up excess nitrogen in the fall, but die and decompose over winter. They tend to be very good for the soil ... we hope."
Maryland farmers are on track to exceed the Phase I Watershed Implementation Plan milestone for cover crops with record number of approved acres," says Agriculture Secretary Hance. "We commend and thank all farmers who, together, have enrolled more than half a million acres of small grain crops that protect our soil and water by taking up any left over nutrients and preventing soil erosion over the winter."
Top counties ranked by the largest percentage of eligible farmland enrolled:
Allegany 702/800 acres – 88%
Calvert 5,616/6,600 acres – 85%
Montgomery 21, 167/26,000 – 81%
Somerset 25,144/31,500 – 80%
Top counties ranked by most acres enrolled:
Queen Anne's – 63, 838
Kent – 57, 799
Talbot – 55, 322
Frederick – 43, 434
Dorchester – 40,991
Plenty of incentive
Maryland's Cover Crop Program provides farmers with grants to plant rye, wheat, barley, canola, rapeseed, kale, ryegrass, spring oats, triticale, and forage radish. Farmers who plant traditional cover crops receive a base rate of $45 per acre plus up to $55 per acre in add-on incentives for using highly valued planting practices. Harvested cover crops qualify for $25 per acre with a bonus payment of $10 per acre if rye is used as the cover crop. Certain restrictions apply.To mount a similar grant program in a larger agricultural state, such as Pennsylvania, would be far more costly, note ag experts. At $45 to $80 an acre, it would cost upwards of $90 million in the Chesapeake Bay watershed alone, estimates Penn State Agronomist Sjord Duiker.