The state Department of Agriculture reminds farmers participating in the 2007-2008 Traditional Winter Cover Crop Program that they can graze livestock in cover-crop fields or cut and bale the crop for winter hay once the cover crop is fully established.
Many livestock producers are in a feed deficit because of reductions in hay and grain supplies and pasture grasses from the drought.
Cover crops are widely recognized as one of the most cost-effective and environmentally promising ways to absorb unused nitrogen and control soil erosion to reduce potential nutrient impacts to the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries during winter.
The Maryland Agricultural Water Quality Cost-Share Program provides grants to farmers who plant cover crops of rye, wheat and barley in the fall to slow rainwater runoff and absorb nutrients remaining in the soil from the previous summer crop.
Cover crops become more important in drought years when withering summer crops might not use all the available nutrients.
For a second year, the Agriculture Department is providing a commodity cover-crop program for farmers who want to harvest cover crops. The commodity program option is in addition to the traditional program, which does not allow harvest and provides stronger incentives to plant cover crops for environmental and soil quality benefits. Use of manure and commercial fertilizer is restricted under both programs.
A record $8.2 million is available for the cover-crop program.