Somerset County farmers take part in MDA’s cover crop program

ANNAPOLIS — Maryland farmers planted a record-setting nearly 560,000 acres of cover crops on their fields last fall as part of the Maryland Department of Agriculture’s 2016-2017 Cover Crop Program, breaking the previous record of 501,204 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.

In Somerset County there were 49 contracts approved totaling nearly 19,400 acres. MDA’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. 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 nearly 560,000 acres of cover crops planted will prevent an estimated 3.36 million pounds of nitrogen, and 112,000 pounds of phosphorus from reaching Maryland waterways.

“Over the last several years, our cover crop program has really taken off as more and more farmers reap the agronomic and environmental benefits of including these hardworking crops in their planting rotations,” said Secretary Joe Bartenfelder. “For a second year, farmers have exceeded 500,000 acres planted. For the past seven years, farmers have consistently exceeded the Bay milestone goal for this important best management practice.”

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