SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) _ Some farmers may be allowed to delay seeding land enrolled in the federal Conservation Reserve Program because of the high price of native grass seed.

But federal officials say a delay now might mean paying a higher price for seed later this year.

``If too many people delay planting now, it could put demand on the seed later, which could assure higher prices,'' said Daryl Campbell, a conservation specialist with the Agriculture Department's Farm Services Agency in Huron, S.D. ``There's no guarantee seed costs will come down.''

County conservation committees have the power to grant delays. But Campbell said farmers who do so will have to plant interim cover crops, such as small grain, which carry their own costs.

The required seeding must be done eventually to comply with new program rules, he said.

The program pays farmers to stop farming fragile cropland and plant grasses and legumes instead. About 30 million acres of land is expected to be enrolled in the program by October, including 1.7 million acres in South Dakota.

New contracts designed to benefit wildlife include a mixture of native grasses that make better wildlife habitat.

The sharp increase in demand for those grasses caused prices for some seed to double and triple.

Steve French, a farmer from the Roswell, S.D., area, signed up a piece of land last year to be planted this spring. He locked in a seed price to prevent higher costs and fell within a range that qualified for a government cost share.

Even so, it will cost French almost $30 an acre to seed the land. It costs about $12 an acre to seed land under his existing CRP contract, which expires in the fall of 1999.

French said some farmers in his area did not renew contracts because of the new seeding requirements and higher costs.

``The rental rates around here are up to $45 or $50 an acre, and CRP payments are only $45,'' he said. ``Then you start talking about those kinds of costs for seed, and it gets harder to justify putting it in.''

Campbell said some landowners have backed out of contracts, citing the high costs and scarce seed. He estimates they represent fewer than 5 percent of those who enrolled.

Most of those who withdraw will face a financial penalty, he said.