2016-2017 Cover Crop Program

Plant Cover Crops

Maryland farmers are reaping the benefits of adding cover crops to their rotations. Studies have shown that planting cover crops in the fall can increase yields of cash crops like corn and soybeans after only a few years. Cover crops provide water management benefits for all weather conditions including too much or too little rain. Other benefits include improved soil health, fewer weeds and insect pests, and increased biodiversity. Cover crops faithfully protect water quality by recycling unused plant nutrients in the soil while working all winter to protect fields against erosion. Isn’t it time you added cover crops to your rotation?


Grants are available to help farmers offset seed, labor and equipment costs associated with planting cover crops in the fall. Maryland has earmarked approximately $22.5 million for this year’s program.


June 24 – July 15, 2016 at soil conservation district offices statewide. No appointment necessary.


  • Cereal Grains: Wheat/speltz, rye, barley, triticale, spring oats, ryegrass and canola/rape (brassica) 
  • Forage Radish
  • Legumes: Crimson clover, Austrian winter peas and hairy vetch (these species may only be planted with a cereal grain as part of a mix)


  • Plant cereal grains by November 5, 2016. Some species have earlier deadlines. Ask your soil conservation district for a complete list of planting deadlines by species. 
  • To create diversity, any two cover crop species may be mixed at a rate of 60 percent cereal grains (except spring oats) and 40 percent legumes or radish. 
  • Mixes containing rye do not qualify for the $10/acre rye incentive. 
  • Mixes containing forage radish must be planted by September 15, 2016. 
  • Mixes containing legumes must be planted by October 1, 2016.


  • Plant cover crops after corn, soybeans, sorghum, tobacco or vegetables are harvested.
  • There is a five acre minimum. There are no acreage caps.
  • All seed purchased must be tested and labeled following Maryland Seed Law and Regulations.
  • Seed must be free of prohibited noxious weed seeds, have a minimum germination rate of 80 percent and no more than 16 restricted noxious weeds per pound.
  • Homegrown seed must be tested for germination and noxious weeds by the Maryland State Seed Laboratory before planting.
  • Cost-share is available for seed testing. The current year's seed tag for all purchased seed must be attached to the fall certification.
  • Direct deposit is now available for faster payment. 
  • Applicants must be in good standing with the cost-share program and in compliance with nutrient management requirements.


Traditional cover crops may not be harvested, but may be grazed or chopped for on-farm livestock forage after becoming well established. These cover crops qualify for incentive payments ranging from $45/acre to $75/acre depending on when they are planted and the planting method used. (See PDF at right for details.)  Manure may be applied in the fall following Maryland's nutrient management requirements. Farmers must certify their cover crop with their soil conservation district within one week of planting and no later than November 14, 2016. Killdown/suppression may take place between March 1 and June 1, 2017.


This program option is available to farmers who want to harvest their cover crops. Farmers should provide their best estimate of acres they plan to harvest on their applications.
  • Payment: $25/acre 
  • Bonus Payment: $10/acre if rye is planted as the cover crop. 
  • Acreage Cap: None.
  • Fertilizer Use: After March 1, 2017. Early fertilization at green up may be restricted. 
  • Certification: Farmers must certify harvested cover crops with their soil conservation district within one week of planting and no later than November 14, 2016.

The Cover Crop Program is administered by the Maryland Agricultural Water Quality Cost-Share  Program and funded by the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund and the Chesapeake Bay 2010 Trust Fund. Additional restrictions and conditions may apply. See your soil conservation district representative or contract for details.