Category Archives: Wisconsin

Stories of Farmland Protection Help Steer Future of Wisconsin’s Farmland

From tales of struggle and triumph passed down through generations of a farm family to accounts of new beginnings for those venturing into agriculture for the first time, the stories shared by farmers are as rich and diverse as the fields they sow. These stories mark the history of a farm family and, as was recently witnessed in Green Bay, Wisconsin, can also help chart the path for their future.

In early June, members of Wisconsin’s agricultural and conservation communities lent their stories to the Board of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, a policy-making body within the state’s Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. The department was tasked in 2011 through the state budget appropriations process to review and evaluate its investment in the fledgling Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easement (PACE) program. Through the PACE program, landowners can apply for state funding to help purchase the development rights of their working lands and help protect it from non-agricultural development. The board meeting in Green Bay was the latest in the fight for continued PACE support.

There is no off-season in agriculture and the spring and summer months can be particularly demanding. Nevertheless, speakers came from farms across the state, each leaving much work waiting for them back home, to share their stories and to make the case for PACE. Several farmers detailed the economic development benefits tied to PACE funding. They identified incentives to buy more land, expand operations and provide opportunities for young family members: When they reinvested in agriculture, their employees and local communities also benefited.

As young farmers Christa Behnke, Zoey Brooks and Kyle Zwieg explained, the PACE easements on their families’ properties have provided them certainty for the future and the opportunity to carry on the family business. Zwieg added that he and a brother would probably be working off the farm had it not been for their farm’s PACE easement.

The power of these farmers’ voices—just a sliver of the approximately 37,000 farm operators across the state—illuminated the numerous benefits of PACE. As a result of their efforts, the board took decisive action. After reviewing the recently released PACE report in the afternoon, the board recommended to the Wisconsin Legislature that the PACE program be continued and a source of funding be identified. The motion passed unanimously.

This good news is the latest in American Farmland Trust’s ongoing work to help protect Wisconsin’s critical farmland. Along with our partner, Gathering Waters Conservancy, we have been on the ground in Wisconsin since 2008, working to secure essential policies and programs through the Campaign for Wisconsin’s Farm and Forest Lands. Together, we organized and coordinated a sizeable and influential coalition in support of creating two new farmland protection and farm viability programs — PACE and the Agricultural Enterprise Area Program — that were adopted and funded by the state Legislature in 2009.

However, then newly anointed Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker targeted the PACE program for elimination in his inaugural budget package in early 2011. Through the “Friends of Farmland Protection” campaign, American Farmland Trust and Gathering Waters Conservancy coordinated key supporters from the farm, local government, land trust and planning communities to reach out to lawmakers, the governor and other key leaders to voice strong grassroots support for farmland protection in Wisconsin. In the end, the Legislature listened to the stories shared about the importance of PACE, removing the proposal that would have eliminated the PACE program and restoring funds for the first round of approved applications.

Altogether, the land protection and conservation involvement of American Farmland Trust and our partners in Wisconsin have made progress while overcoming significant hurdles since 2008. The impact has been the designation of 340,000 acres in 17 Agricultural Enterprise Areas and 75 applications covering more than 20,000 acres to the PACE program. But our work is far from complete. Through collective action and shared stories, we continue to help steer efforts to protect Wisconsin’s farmland for generations to come.


About the author: One of the nation’s leading experts in Farmland Protection, Bob Wagner celebrated his 25th year at American Farmland Trust in 2010 and has worked in the field of farmland protection since 1981. In his current position, Wagner helps states and local communities nationwide build support for and create policies to protect agricultural land.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Midwest: A Year of Progress

Another year has passed, and with it a year of exciting new projects and partnerships to protect the priceless farmland resources of the Midwest. Farmers throughout the region are finding ways to be better stewards of the land, while farmers and citizens alike are fighting for policies and programs that keep farmland in farming even with state budget issues and shifting farm ownership demographics looming.

Just as farmers glance back at the rows they’ve just planted or harvested as they continue moving forward, I wanted to take this chance to share with you some of the successes we’ve had over the past year:

Farm and farm fields in the MidwestFinding New Ways to Help Farmers and the Environment Thrive

In the Upper Salt Fork watershed in central Illinois, our work with farmers to reduce fertilizer and soil runoff into the Mississippi River basin has so far resulted in new conservation practices on nearly 4,000 acres of the 27,000-acre watershed. In Lake Erie, where a record toxic algal bloom spread, adding to the “dead zone” threatening the area’s $10 billion annual tourism industry, we’re working with farmers to reduce phosphorus runoff, which contributes to the problem. And in the Ohio River Basin, we’re starting to recruit farmers to participate in pilot trades that could lead to the nation’s largest water quality trading program.

Keeping Farms in Farming While Safely Controlling Pests

Working with the Environmental Protection Agency, we have five projects underway to help fruit and vegetable farmers in the Midwest control insects, weeds, plant diseases and other pests while protecting the environment and remaining profitable. In Michigan, we’re helping cherry growers manage pesky flies, while in Minnesota we’ve helped strawberry, pumpkin and potato growers control weeds without chemicals.

Bringing Farm Owners and Operators Together

Currently, nearly 90 percent of farm owners are not farm operators, with absentee landlords owning 44 percent of the nation’s farmland. Along with key partners in Iowa, we launched a project to learn about the impacts of absentee landowners, the adoption of conservation practices on leased land and how to help owners and operators discuss conservation challenges.

Saving Farmland Protection in Wisconsin

Just two years ago, we led the drive to pass Wisconsin’s Working Lands Initiative and create a new Farmland Preservation Program, much needed in a pivotal farm state losing its fertile farmland to development. But when Governor Scott Walker put promised funds for the program on hold and called for eliminating it entirely, American Farmland Trust mobilized farmers, activists and citizens. The state legislature listened, keeping the program intact and restoring funds for already approved projects.

Women: America’s Emerging Agricultural Leaders

Due to the age of many farmers, within 20 years about 70 percent of farmland will change hands, and women may own up to 75 percent of it. While possessing a strong conservation ethic, many women are unsure of how to take action to protect and conserve their land. We’ve started the planning process to hold women-only meetings to educate women who own farmland in the Midwest, helping to address such barriers.

A Look Ahead

For more than 25 years, we have been working to protect farmland through preservation and conservation efforts throughout the Midwest. In the breadbasket of the nation, we know we can’t afford to take these priceless resources for granted. That’s why we will continue our work throughout the Midwest in the coming year and beyond.


About the Author: Ann Sorensen, Ph.D. is Director of Research at American Farmland Trust. She currently sits on the EPA’s Farm, Ranch and Rural Communities Federal Advisory Committee.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Citizens Make the Difference in Sustaining Wisconsin’s Farmland Protection Program

In June 2009, the Wisconsin State Legislature adopted the Working Lands Initiative with the objective of protecting farm and forest lands in the state. Among the landmark efforts introduced by the Working Lands Initiative were the Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easement (PACE) and Agricultural Enterprise Area programs. American Farmland Trust and Gathering Waters Alliance were the driving forces behind the initiative and continue to work together to support conservation programs while providing resources to support farmland protection.

Farmland protection leaders in Waupaca County gather at Bob and Penny Leder's (left) farm in 2010. Waupaca County farmers were among the first successful PACE applicants in Wisconsin.

Just two years ago, farming and farmland protection advocates in Wisconsin were riding high when the legislature created a statewide Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (PACE) and the budget allocated $12 million to provide state grants to PACE projects over the next two years. Through the PACE program, the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection provides funding to local governments and non-profit organizations for the purchase of easements from landowners.

The new tools were certainly necessary. Wisconsin is near the top of the list of states that have lost prime agricultural land to development pressure, with more than 280,000 acres lost between 1982 and 2007 alone. Agriculture is crucial to the state’s economy, and well-managed agricultural areas provide an array of environmental benefits. Fast-forward to this past January. Governor Scott Walker’s inaugural budget package not only put on hold all previously promised funds for PACE but also called for eliminating the program entirely. Wisconsin is near

This threat to the state’s fledgling PACE program caused a stir among a wide, bipartisan cross-section of farmers, conservationists, farm advocates and community activists. Citizens from across the state spoke up in support of keeping a strong farmland protection program intact. Dozens of individual farmers and other citizen advocates of farmland protection were joined by counties and towns, land trusts, farm groups and other citizen-based organizations in these efforts. Citizens reached out to lawmakers, the governor and other key leaders to voice strong grassroots support for farmland protection in Wisconsin.  In particular, Joint Committee on Finance field hearings on the budget were overwhelmed by the outpouring of support for farmland protection and the PACE program in Wisconsin.

And indeed the legislature listened, removing the proposal that would have eliminated the PACE program and restoring funds for the 16 initial PACE applications that had received careful review and approval for funding. Other critical components of the state’s farmland protection program have also been maintained in the budget. Counties are required to update their farmland protection plans, and grant money is available to assist them with their plan updates. The budget also provides $27 million in farmland protection tax credits to Wisconsin farmers when they meet their conservation responsibilities.

With Governor Walker’s signing of the budget over the last weekend in June, farmland protection efforts and PACE have a new lease on life in Wisconsin. This is due in no small measure to the earnest and genuine voices of citizens speaking out in support of farmers, farming and the protection of valuable, irreplaceable farmland.



About the authors:

One of the nation’s leading experts in Farmland Protection, Bob Wagner celebrated his 25th year at American Farmland Trust in 2010 and has worked in the field of farmland protection since 1981. In his current position, Wagner helps states and local communities nationwide build support for and create policies to protect agricultural land.

Bill Berry is a writer and communications specialist who works in the areas of private-land conservation and agriculture.  A consultant to American Farmland Trust, he currently oversees the Working Lands Initiative website. He lives in Stevens Point, Wisconsin.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter