A record 1,668 Maryland farmers will plant more than 500,000 acres of winter grains on their fields this year through the state’s cover crop program, according to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. This is 155 percent of Maryland’s two-year milestone for cover crops.
Cover crops are a key component of restoring the health of the Chesapeake Bay by reducing polluted runoff from farm fields. Farmers can plant grains such as wheat, rye and barley in the fall to absorb unused nutrients and control soil erosion.
“Maryland’s cover crop program has the potential to do more for the Bay than ever before,” said Maryland Agriculture Secretary Buddy Hance. “Maryland farmers are on track to exceed the two-year milestone for cover crops with record number of approved acres.”
In addition, the Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA) has received a $600,000 grant to implement a cover crop management tool, which will provide data for the Chesapeake Bay model. The tool will use remote sensing to see how efficiently fields planted with cover crops are absorbing nutrients. Farmers will receive reports about their fields from this tool so they can better manage cover crops in the future.
MDA has also launched a pilot program called Conservation Tracker, which will provide accurate accounting of best management practices (BMPs) on Maryland farms. Conservation Tracker will geo-reference farms that use BMPs and calculate their nutrient reduction credits.
The program, now being piloted in Talbot County, will ultimately help MDA target resources to areas that will achieve the greatest benefits to local waterways and the Bay, as well as help the state track and report on progress toward its pollution-reduction milestones through BayStat.