The U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency announced a new pilot program that enables farmers in Prairie Pothole states to receive payments for planting cover crops on their land for three to five years.

The new Conservation Reserve Program Soil Health and Income Protection Program pilot is available to producers in Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota. The signup for this pilot starts March 30 and ends Aug. 21.

Through SHIPP, producers have the option of three-, four- or five-year CRP contracts to establish cover crops on less productive cropland in exchange for payments. This pilot enables producers to plant cover crops that, among other benefits, will improve soil health and water quality while having the option to harvest, hay and graze during certain times of the year. Up to 50,000 acres can be enrolled.

Cover crops, whether used in a single crop rotation or over multiple years, can improve the productivity of soils and soil health on a farm for generations and increase the bottom line for the farmer. Soil health, or soil quality, by definition, is the capacity of soil to function as a vital living ecosystem that sustains plants, animals and humans.

The SHIPP pilot is the latest option in a full suite of opportunities available to producers through CRP and other conservation programs offered by USDA. Farmers and ranchers are encouraged to talk to their FSA county office soon about whether this pilot fits their operation or consider another longer-term option such as the CRP Continuous Program. (The signup for that is ongoing.)

For more information, visit fsa.usda.gov/crp and contact the Choteau FSA office at 466-5351.