Maryland's Cover Crop Program

Plant Cover Crops

Planting cover crops in the fall makes good sense for Maryland farmers and the Chesapeake Bay. Cover crops have a proven track record of protecting waterways from nutrient runoff, controlling erosion, suppressing weeds and improving the soil for the next crop. They may even help farm fields recover more quickly from drought and extreme rainfall events. As an added benefit, established cover crops can be used for winter grazing or chopped for on-farm livestock forage. 

The Maryland Agricultural Water Quality Cost-Share Program provides farmers with cost-share grants to help offset seed, labor and equipment costs associated with planting cover crops immediately following the summer crop harvest. Cover crops may not be harvested, but can be grazed or chopped for livestock forage for on-farm use after becoming well established. 

Sign-up for the cover crop program is usually held during a three week period in late June - early July at soil conservation district offices. Cost-share rates vary from year to year, however, in recent years, farms have received up to $75/acre to plant cover crops in their fields. 

​Eligible crops may be grazed or chopped for on-farm livestock forage after becoming well established. Manure may be applied in the fall following Maryland's nutrient management requirements. All cover crops must be planted by early November to qualify for payment and ensure their success. Farmers must certify their cover crop with the soil conservation district within one week of planting and after kill down or suppression, which takes place between March 1 and June 1. Soil conservation districts conduct field checks on a percentage of certified acres to verify program compliance. 


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


  • To create diversity, eligible cover crop species may be mixed at a rate of 50 percent cereal grains (except spring oats) and 50 percent radish or legumes. 
  • A new three-species mix (small grains, legumes, forage radish) is now eligible for payment. Mix must contain a minimum of 50% small grains.


  • Plant cover crops after corn, soybeans, sorghum, tobacco or vegetables.
  • 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 of cost-share payment is available for faster turnaround.


  • Applicants must be in good standing with MACS and in compliance with Maryland's nutrient management regulations.
  • Additional restrictions may apply. 

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 and Atlantic Coastal Bays Trust Fund. Additional restrictions and conditions may apply. See your soil conservation district representative or contract for details.