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Brooks family’s legacy is permanent with PACE

“Leave a legacy, not a liability.”

That’s the motto at Brooks Farms in Waupaca, the 2013 Wisconsin Land and Water Conservation Association’s Conservation Farmer of the Year.

The fifth-generation farm family adheres to the motto daily, with an array of soil and water conservation practices, energy conservation, wildlife habitat enhancement and other sustainability efforts.

In 2010, Ron and Terri Brooks took a major step to make the farm’s legacy permanent, selling development rights on 1,200 acres in Wisconsin’s Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easements (PACE) program.

Under PACE, farmland is permanently protected and conservation-compliant. The program, which remains on the books but is not funded, has preserved 5,124 acres of Wisconsin’s best farmland through 17 permanent easements.

The Brooks PACE easement was the largest in the state. It protects most of the land on a farm that was born more than 158 years ago. A celebration on the farm this past June allowed state conservation and agriculture leaders to praise the family for its ongoing commitment to sustainable agriculture and conservation. After the ceremonies, which included a Dixieland band, pizza and other treats, attendees headed out on wagons pulled by tractors for conservation tours. The tours were led by Ron and his dad, Dodge, who continues to work on the farm though he’s officially retired.

Brooks Farms was homesteaded in 1855. The family and its staff care for more than 400 head of high producing Holstein cattle. The milking herd produces some of the highest quality milk in the state. They raise most of their own feed.

The farm has worked with local, state and federal agencies to design and implement conservation practices, including no-till planting and conservation tillage, manure storage, clean water removal, buffer strips, integrated pest management, oak savannah/tall grass prairie restoration, and wildlife corridors to reconnect fragmented habitat. The farm participates in the NRCS Conservation Security Program (CSP).

Sustainability efforts don’t stop there. The farm has taken steps to limit ground water use and prevent ground water contamination. Dozens of energy-efficiency steps include everything from solar panels to milk cooling compressors that reduce energy use and recycle heat to the milking facility in cold months.

“Sustainable means we are producing food and producing income while nurturing the environment that we all live and work in,” says Ron Brooks.

The family gives back to its community, including hosting the local Future Farmers of America “Farm Fest,” that gives children and their parents an opportunity to visit and learn about the operation.

They take their message beyond the farm’s fence lines, too. Ron Brooks and his daughter, Zoey, an animal science major at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, have testified about the importance of programs like PACE before groups like the state Legislature’s Joint Committee on Finance and the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection Board.

Dignitaries on hand for the event included Natural Resources Conservation Service State Conservationist Jimmy Bramblett, USDA Farm Services Agency Director Brad Pfaff, University of Wisconsin Extension Dean Rick Klemme, and Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection Agency Agricultural Resource Management Administrator John Petty. Jim VandenBrook, executive director of the Wisconsin Land and Water Conservation Association, was master of ceremonies.