By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
There is a new opportunity to put land into the Conservation Reserve Program, but there are also some new regulations.
The Farm Service Agency in Hill County is holding a meeting Tuesday to explain what's going on.
Mike Zook, FSA executive director in Hill County, said the opportunity is major, but the window is pretty small.
"I expect this to be the last big signup in Hill County for some time," he said Friday.
CRP pays farmers not to plant and harvest land considered marginal to prevent erosion and to benefit wildlife habitat. Much of Hill County meets either criteria, he said.
Farmers in Hill County could bid to put 21,300 acres into CRP in the new signup, he said. Once that land enters the program, Hill County will reach the maximum limit under federal law, which is 25 percent of cropland in a county.
About 13,000 acres of that are becoming available because of CRP contracts that expire in the next two years.
Hill County farmers have been successful in getting about 90 percent of their bids into the program in the last few signups, Zook said.
New regulations prompted the meeting, he said. One is due to a simplification using modern technology.
The program will use satellite global information system technology to identify the predominant soil type of the land being considered to compute the maximum amount the owner can bid to put the land into CRP. It also will compute how environmentally sensitive the parcel is to determine the benefit of putting it into CRP.
Because of that, and because of a simplification of the environmental benefits index used, the FSA office is handling all of the computation processes for the applications. FSA used to work in conjunction with its sister U.S. Department of Agriculture agency, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Zook said.
"It's still a long, drawn-out process, but hopefully it won't be nearly as intensive as in the past," he said.
Another new aspect of the program is managed haying and grazing on CRP lands outside of the prime nesting season for waterfowl and upland birds in the area. Managed haying and grazing will be allowed after Aug. 1, Zook said.
Previously, haying and grazing of CRP land was only allowed under emergency conditions. It has been allowed in north-central Montana at times during the drought conditions of the last five years.
Also discussed at the meeting will be disaster programs available this year. Zook said the startup for applying for the disaster programs, which are available to eligible livestock and grain and hay producers, is June 6.
Zook said he is creating a PowerPoint presentation to explain all of the items the meeting will cover. He had more than 200 slides for the presentation Friday, and wasn't done yet.
The meeting will be held at the Montana State University-Northern Student Union Building ballroom, starting at 7 p.m.