Jul 10, 2013

Farmland Protection Moves Forward in Budget

Farmland protection fared well in the recently passed state budget, thanks to the efforts of citizens like you across the state.

In the previous budget cycle two years ago, farmland protection efforts took some deep hits, including defunding of the popular Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easements program.

This year, elected officials took several positive steps to protect Wisconsin’s best farmland. Here’s a brief recap:

  • You spoke up, and the Legislature listened. Thanks to your efforts, the Legislature restored most of the $1.3 million cut two years ago from county land conservation department budgets. State Sen. Sheila Harsdorf of River Falls led the effort to restore this crucial funding. Land conservation department staffs are the boots on the ground for local farmland preservation efforts and a variety of other farmland conservation programs. Several agriculture and conservation groups came together to support restoring funding. It’s a reminder of what we can accomplish when we find common ground and work together.
  • The governor vetoed an amendment to the state budget that would have changed the farmland preservation tax credit to a grant. He also vetoed moving administration of the program from the Department of Revenue to the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. This provides stability at a time when counties are busy updating their farmland preservation plans and signing tax credit agreements with farmers and landowners who agree to conservation compliance.
  • The Legislature also removed the $27 million cap on the program, so if farmland preservation tax credits exceed that amount, all credits will be fully paid. This is definitely good news.
  • Finally, the budget includes funding for farmland preservation planning grants to counties. The funding had been cut last year. Local people can now proceed to identify and seek protection for their best farmland, while assuring that other land use needs are met, too.

So, what’s next for farmland protection in Wisconsin? American Farmland Trust remains committed to restoring an agricultural easement program such as PACE. We continue to receive contacts from folks across the state interested in permanently protecting farms. Several counties have strong farmland protection programs, and the federal Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program pays up to 50 percent of the cost of purchasing easements. The missing partner right now is the state. We believe a modest state easement program would boost farmland protection efforts tremendously.

American Farmland Trust, and our partners, including Gathering Waters Conservancy, are also committed to helping state leaders find ways to enhance agricultural enterprise areas across the state.  AEAs are one of the key components of Wisconsin’s modern farmland protection program. There are currently 22 AEAs in 17 counties, covering about 530,000 acres and hundreds of farms.

For more information on farmland protection efforts in Wisconsin, contact Bill Berry, American Farmland Trust field representative, 3210 Dan's Drive, Stevens Point, WI 54481, 715 341 9119, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).