Town of Oakland
Getting started farming is not easy for young families. Some young people are having a little easier time getting into it due to help from established farmers who do not have sons or daughters to take over the business.
After working on his neighbor and step-brother’s farm in his youth, in 1980 Ned Healy started buying into the business with hopes of eventually buying the farm from Rodell Lea.
In the years since, Healy’s wife Sarah and their three sons share in their enthusiasm to continue operating the farm.
As the farm owner, Lea has taken a major step to make sure that Healy not only has an opportunity to buy the farm but that he and his family will be able to remain in business without pressures to convert the farm to other uses.
Lea’s farm is the first farm in Wisconsin to formally place a conservation easement on the land through the state’s Purchase of Conservation Easement (PACE) program. His 220-acre dairy farm ranked first in the state and federal agricultural conservation easement programs.
The cost sharing program was a collaboration between the Jefferson County’s Farmland Conservation Easement Commission, created in 2007, Wisconsin’s PACE program and a federal farmland preservation program.
PACE PROGRAM DEVELOPMENT
Several years ago the state began looking at ways to preserve farmland in Wisconsin. As a result of that initiative, in 2010 the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, under the leadership of the late Rod Nilsestuen, developed the statewide PACE program.
Sixteen farms from around the state were selected in the first round of the program.
In 2011, new state leadership discontinued the program before any farmland was protected. However, after intense lobbying efforts, funding was maintained for the original 16 farms. Lea’s farm was one of them.
According to Coreen Fallat of the DATCP, so far eight of the 15 projects were completed, covering approximately 3,000 acres of farmland. The remaining seven projects will be completed throughout the spring and summer of 2012.
Overall, it is anticipated that approximately 5,600 acres will be permanently protected for future agricultural use as a result of the PACE program.
Meanwhile Jefferson County moved their program forward and is encouraging landowners to take a look at the current federal tax incentives for donating a conservation easement to permanently protect the important resource of their farmland.
When landowners donate or sell a conservation easement to a county or town program or a land trust, they maintain ownership and management of their land and can sell or pass the land on to their heirs while foregoing future development rights.
Lea is a staunch advocate of farmland preservation. The way he sees it, good farmland should grow crops, not houses.
“In 1987 there were 24 dairy farms in our township. Today we are one of eight that are left,” he points out.
“I’ve lived here my entire life. I’ve seen the farmland get broken up by subdivisions and houses placed on parcels of farm land around the country. A lot of land in the area is also being set aside for parks. This program should have been in place 30 years ago,” he says.
INTEREST IN PROTECTING
THE SOIL, wildlife
Lea and the Healy family employ many conservation practices on their farm and are excited that the land will be protected for future generations of farmers.
Lea says, “We haven’t done any plowing since the 1980s. We do no till and vertical tillage to loosen the ground without disturbing it,” he says. “We use an airway tool to work in the manure without disturbing the soil.”
Lea believes his efforts to protect wildlife habitat on the farm and his soil conservation methods contributed to the PACE council’s decision to rank the farm number on among the applicants for the program.
Another reason was that houses were beginning to pop up around the area without consideration for preserving land for farming in the future.
Lea says, “ I want to see this farm stay in agriculture and I’m hoping others in the area will do the same.”
He believes the first step in doing that is to establish an Agricultural Enterprise Area that would include his farm and others near him.
The establishment of an AEA would not only provide land owners with the opportunity to get an additional credit on his property tax, but it would also insure that in the future there are tracks of farmland adjacent to each other, which encourages farm service providers such as dairy supply companies, implement dealers and others, to remain in the area.
OF AEA SIGNUP COMING
The DATCP department has the authority to designate up to one million acres statewide as AEAs. Fallat says, “Following the 2012 petition cycle, we estimate that just over 500,000 acres will be designated as AEAs throughout the state.”
She anticipates that the next request for petitions will be released early this fall.
The state recently made some changes in how they handle AEA’s but those changes don’t alter the process by which a petition is developed at the local level. Petition development still requires voluntary and coordinated local action by landowners and all local governments.
During petition development, the petitioners typically host public meetings and appear before town and county boards to gain support from local governments, landowners, area businesses and other partner organizations.