FARGO, N.D. — General sign up for the Conservation Reserve Program ends on Friday, and Farm Service Agency personnel urge farmers and ranchers to contact their county FSA offices if they are interested.

Sign up began Dec. 9. Wanda Braton, Farm Service Agency program director in the North Dakota state office, said the process is very competitive and not everyone who signs up will be accepted. Land receives an environmental benefit index score based on location, wildlife benefits, water quality, soil, air and cost.

CRP is a federally-funded voluntary program that contracts with agricultural producers so that environmentally sensitive agricultural land is not farmed or ranched, but instead devoted to conservation benefits. CRP participants establish long-term, resource-conserving plant species, such as approved grasses or trees to control soil erosion, improve water quality and develop wildlife habitat. In return, FSA provides participants with rental payments and cost-share assistance. Contracts last 10-15 years.

“It’s one of the largest private land conservation programs we have in the U.S.,” Braton explained.

To be eligible for the CRP general enrollment period, land must be cropland (including field margins) that is planted, or considered planted, to an agricultural commodity four of the six crop years from 2012 to 2017, and be physically and legally capable of being planted in a normal manner, meaning it cannot have planting restrictions due to easements or other legally binding instruments. Alfalfa or other multiyear grasses and legumes grown in a rotation not to exceed 12 years may also be eligible.

After the Feb. 28 deadline, FSA county officials will compile potential projects to send to the national office, which will use the EBI score to determine which projects will be chosen. Braton expects that projects will be chosen within about a month.

Other conservation programs, including the continuous Conservation Reserve Program, will have deadlines in the coming months. Braton said producers who are interested in using conservation practices on problem acres should contact their county FSA offices.

“Of course, we want to promote the production and the farming,” Braton said. “But every farm probably has those problem areas that maybe they’re not high producing and they’d probably be perfect for a conservation program of some sort. We just encourage producers to take a look at their farming operation and if they’re not really getting the production that they’re expecting out of some of their acres maybe conservation would be the way to go on those problem areas.”

Another FSA deadline this week is for the Livestock Indemnity Program. Producers who lost livestock due to a qualified event must already have filed their notice of loss with their county offices to be eligible, and they have until March 1 to file the application for payment under LIP, Braton said.