Maryland growers may see a change in the laws around cover crops. Frederick County Delegate Ken Kerr (D) plans to re-introduce a bill that would allow farmers growing cover crops to harvest them. Currently, the state of Maryland pays growers $75 per acre to grow covers, but if they take the money, they aren’t allowed to harvest the crop.
Kerr’s bill will change this policy, enabling Maryland growers to harvest their cover crops — which are typically barley and rye — and sell them to the county’s numerous distilleries and breweries. Frederick County has the most distilleries and breweries of any county in the state of Maryland.
The bill was introduced in 2019, but the Maryland Department of Agriculture wasn’t ready to implement the policy, so they asked Kerr to withdraw it. The revised bill will be re-introduced during this legislative session, which began on January 8.
Many growers who have used cover crops have to experiment with different species before finding which ones work best for their operation. Kerr says that this bill will encourage growers in their experimentation process.
“If we allow farmers the freedom to experiment, knowing they’re not going to lose money on the crop if the crop fails, then we can do some research and find out which of these strains are going to grow best in which regions. And we can begin to be self-sufficient for our craft beverage industry with these malting grains,” says Kerr.
In a time when an increasing number of growers are becoming interested in utilizing cover crops — and the benefits of covers are needed now more than ever — growers don’t need any kind of legislation as a barrier to growing covers. I am pleased to see that this bill seeks to correct that issue, while serving to help grow a local, agriculture-based industry that also boosts the local economy.
Just to play devil’s advocate here, is it fair for farmers harvesting and profiting from cover crops — possibly reducing or eliminating the economic risk — to also be taking government subsidies to plant them?
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