Hearings are getting underway for a new program in the federal farm bill aimed at rewarding farmers who’ve taken conservation steps. Laura Greiner with the Natural Resources Conservation Service says they could earn financial incentives depending on their work to control soil erosion. How much soil farmers are saving: whether they leave crop residue, what kind of plants they use to keep chemicals and sediment from reaching water, and moves to maintain quality of the environment. Greiner explains that keeping dirt out of creeks and rivers keeps them cleaner in other ways. Often the soil carries chemicals with it, so by keeping sediment out of the water you’re also keeping out the fertilizer and pesticide. There’s a complex three-tiered formula for rewarding farmers who take proven measures to protect some watersheds. Certain watersheds will be included so farmers in those areas can participate, but not statewide — and she says there’s been intense interest ever since the program’s inception because it can offer some farmers “substantial reward” for conservation moves. Greiner says the program’s designed to “reward the best and motivate the rest.” After this period of nationwide comment, the final rule will be published and the program will go into effect. For more, see the website www.nrcs.usda.gov and click on “Farm Bill Programs.”