Maryland farmers planted nearly 430,000 acres of cover crops in fall 2011 through the state’s Cover Crop Program, the largest planting in Maryland history, according to the Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA). The 2011 figure exceeds Maryland’s 2013 Chesapeake Bay pollution reduction milestone for cover crop plantings by 21 percent.
Cover crops are widely considered one of the most cost-effective and environmentally sustainable ways to control soil erosion and reduce nutrient pollution to the Bay and its rivers in winter. Collectively, the 429,818 acres of cover crops planted in 2011 will prevent an estimated 2.58 million pounds of nitrogen (60 percent of Maryland’s total pollution reduction milestone goal) and 86,000 pounds of phosphorus from entering the state’s waterways.
Farmers plant cover crops such as rye, wheat and barley in the fall after summer crops are harvested. As they grow, cover crops recycle unused plant nutrients remaining in the soil, protect fields against wind and water erosion, and help improve the soil for next year’s crop.
To learn more about Maryland’s cover crop program, visit MDA’s website.
More than 1,700 Maryland farmers will plant a record 550,000 acres of winter grains this fall through the state’s Cover Crop Program.
This acreage represents 155 percent of Maryland’s cover crop goal in its Phase 1 Watershed Implementation Plan, which spells out how the state will meet federal pollution reduction requirements. Cover crops are considered one of the most cost-effective ways to reduce pollution and help restore the Bay.
Maryland’s Cover Crop Program provides farmers with grants to plant cover crops on their fields immediately following the summer crop harvest.
Cover crops are grains such as wheat, rye and barley that are planted in the fall. Once established, cover crops recycle unused nutrients, helping to improve the soil for next year’s crop. Cover crops also control soil erosion and reduce the amount of nutrients that run off the land into nearby waterways.
Visit Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley’s website to learn more about the cover crop enrollment figures.
Maryland farmers planted a record 398,679 acres of cover crops on their farms last fall, exceeding the state’s cover crop goal by 20 percent, according to the Maryland Department of Agriculture.
Cover crops are considered one of the best and most cost-effective agricultural conservation practices, also known as best management practices (BMPs). Cover crops help protect the Chesapeake Bay and local waterways by controlling soil erosion and reducing nutrient pollution runoff.
Collectively, the 398,679 acres of cover crops will prevent an estimated 2.4 million pounds of nitrogen and 80,000 pounds of phosphorus from potentially polluting the Bay and its rivers.
“Maryland is committed to achieving our Bay restoration goals by 2020, five years ahead of any other state in the watershed,” said Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley. “The fact that farmers exceeded their goal and helped us get 60 percent of the way toward our overall two-year goal across all sectors shows that we can reach our early target.”
Farmers plant cover crops in the fall after harvesting their summer crops. Rye, wheat, barley and other cereal grains are planted as cover crops because they grow in cool weather.
Visit the Maryland Department of Agriculture’s website to learn more about cover crops.
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.
Agricultural practices account for roughly one-quarter of the land use in the Bay watershed. Of that land, approximately 17 percent is devoted to crop production, which contributes significant amounts of nutrients and sediment to the Bay and its tributaries. But an increasing number of farmers in the Bay watershed are turning to a new, more Bay-friendly method of crop production called “no-till” farming.
Traditionally, cropland is fertilized and plowed in the spring to turn over the soil and prepare a good seedbed for planting. However, strong, frequent spring rains cause stormwater to rush across bare crop fields, which do not yet have plants to stabilize the soil and absorb the fertilizer. Excess nutrients and sediment from fertilizers and freshly plowed fields run off into surrounding waterways, eventually winding up in the Bay.
No-till farming, also known as conservation tillage or zero-tillage, leaves the soil undisturbed from the fall harvest to spring planting. Seeds are planted in very narrow slots that are “drilled” into the ground using disk openers, or coulters.
There are many benefits of no-till farming compared with traditional methods, including:
No-till farming is considered such a critical part of Bay restoration that several no-till programs have recently received Chesapeake Bay Targeted Watershed Grants, funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. These grants help organizations implement innovative programs to reduce the amount of nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment that flow into the Bay.
In 2006, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection - in partnership with Penn State Cooperative Extension, USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Capital Area RC&D Council, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Pennsylvania Environmental Council - received a grant to oversee the conversion of 12,750 acres of cropland to continuous no-till agriculture. This conversion will reduce the annual nitrogen load to the Susquehanna River by over 99,000 pounds, and the annual phosphorous load by over 17,000 pounds.
Farmers and landowners interested in no-till farming can contact their local USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) office for more information.
It's no secret that agricultural runoff in the Bay watershed contributes a significant amount of nitrogen and phosphorous to Bay waters. Excessive amounts of these nutrients spur harmful algal blooms that deplete dissolved oxygen levels, block out sunlight needed for bay grasses and, in some cases, produce toxic chemicals that can cause fish kills.
Farmers have been using cover crops as one way to reduce the amount of nutrients that end up in the Bay. Cover crops, which are planted in the fall after the autumn harvest, usually consist of cereal grains like wheat, rye and barley that continue to grow during the winter.
Once established, cover crops absorb excess nutrients in the soil and reduce erosion from rain, snow and wind. For every acre of farmland planted with cover crops, an estimated 6.2 pounds of nitrogen and nearly one-quarter of a pound of phosphorous is prevented from reaching our waterways, according to Bay scientists.
Enrollment in cover crop programs has risen steadily over the past several years, showing farmers' support of the initiative. Besides for the notable benefits to Bay health, cover crops also help farmers by retaining nutrients and increasing organic matter in the soil. They also help block out noxious weeds and can inhibit weed seeds from germinating.
State and federal Bay Program partners have recognized the importance of making cover crop programs available for farmers and are expanding existing programs and developing new ones to meet the increased demand. For example, Maryland has more than doubled its funding for cover crop programs to a record $8 million and 290,000 acres.
Runoff from farmland is one of many factors that contribute to high amounts of nutrients and low dissolved oxygen levels in the Bay. Increased use of cover crops each winter is one way to lessen the human environmental footprint on the Bay and support the restoration of a healthy, balanced Bay ecosystem.