ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) _ Minnesota officials are working to sign up more landowners under a new program that pays farmers to permanently set aside farmland for conservation to improve water quality.

Reports say the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, which launched last year, enrolls farm owners for 15 years. Farmers in the program are also signed up for the federal Reinvest in Minnesota program agreeing to a permanent easement, a legal document stipulating the land must always be managed for conservation.

The programs come as the state is in jeopardy of losing 500,000 acres (202,0 hectares) of grassland over the next five years.

Aaron Larsen is a program manager for the West Otter Tail Soil and Water Conservation District. Larsen says it's critical to preserve land permanently to maximize water quality protection.