MINOT, N.D. (KXNET) — Farmers are always trying to keep their soil healthy each year — and now, there’s a program to help. Applications are now available for a conservation program aimed at improving soil health across our state.

The North Dakota Department of Agriculture’s Soil Health Cover Crop Grant Program protects and enhances soil health with a focus on alkaline soils. Alkaline soil means there are not enough nutrients in the ground to help crops grow — but cover crops can bring back these nutrients. They also decrease soil erosion, increase yields, and bring back the soil’s moisture.

“People have maybe driven by on a road and saw what looks like a salt flat,” explains ND Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring. “You know, the tall, whiteout there. Nothing’s growing. And it’s generally caused by what we would call saturated soils. Over the years you’ve had excessive moisture, pretty soon, the salt concentration grows so high within those soils that the soil is almost dead.”

Thankfully, there are also special planting mixes suggested by the Natural Resources Conservation Service that will help our land and reverse some of the damage caused to soil. They include turnips, field peas, and grasses like barley, rye, and oats.

“There are certain cover crops that you can plant that actually tolerate salt very well,” Goehring says, “and it slowly starts to extract the salt out of the soil. And in doing so, makes that soil productive again.”

There are certain qualifications and requirements that producers must meet before planting these cover crops — including mandatory payments. There is a cost-share payment of $25 per acre for applicants, and a 160-acre cap per applicant per year.

Cover crops must be planted by June 15th. Online applications must be completed by June 20th.

For more information, you can contact Jason Wirtz at 701-220-1628, or email jwirtz@nd.gov.