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Improved Farmland Preservation Program Grabs Citizens' Attention

By Jessica Bergan
University Communications

FEB. 9, 2009—After a listening session recently held at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, nearly two dozen professional planners representing private and government associations found out about new and improved farmland preservation opportunities that may become available from the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection's (DATCP) farmland preservation program.

Sponsored by the Wisconsin chapter of the American Planning Association (WAPA), the workshop featured two speakers: David Keuhl, a UWRF plant and earth science professor, who presented best practices for public meetings related to farmland preservation, and Dave Jelinski, from DATCP, who discussed municipal and local government participation for the new Farmland Preservation Program.

“A few years ago, there was an interest in updating the farmland preservation program,” said Alicia Acken-Cosgrove, a UW Extension specialist who helped coordinate the workshop. “Currently, it is functioning fine, but could be run a lot better.”             Presently, DATCP is exploring the establishment of agricultural enterprise areas (AEAs). AEAs are blocks of land in which voluntary participation of affected local governments and least five farms would be able to partake in a Purchasing Agricultural Conservation Easements (PACE). This agricultural used area needs to be at least 1,000 acres and be placed in the woodlands, wetlands or grasslands status. AEAs also could consist of some non-farm uses, but would need to comply with the state's conservation standards.

If a landowner lives in an AEA, he or she would have an opportunity to sell his or her land trust to the local government which, would, in turn, hold that building right from that specific piece of property permanently. The local governments would be funded by applying to the state of Wisconsin for a grant of up to $30,000.

Essentially, the local governments could save money in the long run by buying building rights, and landowners would be making extra money from selling their right to build. Plus, they could be eligible to qualify for tax credits.

There are several requirements that land owners must meet in order for tax credit eligibility. These are spelled out at the farmland preservations website at , under the “Working Lands Proposal Information Sheets.”

These programs have been going on since the 1980s in the eastern United States and have been working very well, said Acken-Cosgrove. Because the Wisconsin style is open-minded and process-oriented, said Acken-Cosgrove, it is a good place to introduce such new ideas.

There have been a few ultimate land-use tours through various states that have already implemented these ideas, such as Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, and others to allow Wisconsin residents to look at how other states are running their program and to talk to landowners. The Secretary of Agriculture, Sen. Sheila Harsdorf, (R-River Falls) along with many others have participated in such tours.  

WAPA members want Wisconsin landowners, along with students, to be aware of this opportunity so that they can take advantage of it, if the government accepts the proposal.

These changes to the farmland preservation program were discussed at the workshop, and the group also gave out awards. Dan Pearson, a CAFES alumni from Troy was awarded the WAPA “Distinguished Leadership: Citizen Award.” Pearson was the first landowner to participate in Troy's Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) program, making Troy's program the only implemented TDR program in Wisconsin. Pearson, along with a number of Troy town board officials and planning commission leaders, helped design the program.

Jim Janke, formerly a community development agent for St. Croix County Cooperative Extension and now with the UWRF Survey Research Center, was also recognized with “Distinguished Leadership: Educator Award.”


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