County May Expand Cover Crop Program If Grant Approved

SNOW HILL – Worcester County will expand its cover crop program if a non-point source reduction grant comes through, permitting more farmers to participate in the popular water quality initiative.

“Right now, I have over $1 million signed up just in the county. We weren’t allocated that much so some of our land owners and farmers aren’t going to get it,” said Doug Jones, Soil Conservation district manager.

Worcester County will apply for $243,000 in Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) funding to enroll more land in the voluntary cover crop program.

Farmers in the program plant crops in the fall, after the main growing season, to take up nutrients and prevent soil erosion.

The cover crop plants, which grow in the fall and the spring and consume nutrients that might otherwise end up in groundwater or waterways, are plowed under or destroyed before a cash crop is planted.

A lower-paying program allows the crop to be finished and sold.

While farmers do not make much on the program, there is a big demand for participation, said Jones.

Payment ranges from $50 per acre to $30 per acre, and farmers get paid more the earlier they plant.

“”The earlier it’s planted in the field, the more benefits you get out of the program,” said Jones. “That’s why it’s a step down program.”

Comprehensive Planning Director Sandy Coyman said, “It works for farmers because it improves the soil. They take up nutrients and they stop erosion.”

Cover crops are the most cost effective way to reduce non-point source nutrient pollution of local waters.

“We’ve looked at all the best management practices,” said Coyman. “For cover crops, it’s about $1.50 to reduce one pound of nitrogen. The other end of the spectrum is urban stormwater management improvements. For every one pound of nitrogen reduced, it costs around $150.”

The EPA grant funding, part of the Clean Water Act, will therefore be directed to where it will have the most impact.

In other news, the County Commissioners also approved an in-kind match for the Maryland Coastal Bays Program’s (MCBP) grant from the EPA’s National Estuary Program.

The county will use the Rural Legacy funding it is already slated to receive as its match for the grant, as it has in the past. The county will not be out of pocket from the grant match.