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Ag Board passes resolution supporting PACE program

Aug. 23, 2012 | 0 comments

Legislature urged to find appropriate funding to protect farmland

In a resolution that was unanimously approved, board members for the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) urged support for a state program that protects farmland from development and urged lawmakers to find funding for the program.

The Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easements or PACE program was part of the Working Lands Initiative, championed by the late state agriculture secretary Rod Nilsestuen that was approved by lawmakers and signed into law by Gov. Jim Doyle.

Just as those programs got going, funding was cut for the portion of the program designed to pay farmers to keep their land from development in the future.

The first group of farmers who wanted to preserve their farms through the PACE program were accepted and paid, but now the program has no funding to pay for future agricultural conservation easements.

In their resolution, board members noted that one of the key elements in preserving and expanding the state's $59-billion agricultural industry lies in preserving its farmland and said they believe that the PACE program "has shown itself to be one of several effective tools available to help farmers maintain their farmland by protecting it from non-agricultural development."

The program, they said, has the potential to protect farmland as well as create economic opportunities by fostering the growth of farm businesses and thereby creating jobs.

The board has heard public comments from young farmers stating that their decision to remain or get involved in agriculture will be influenced by knowing that there will be land to farm now and into the future and that Wisconsin needs to get serious about farmland preservation.

In the two years the PACE program has been in existence, applications for more than 20,000 acres of farmland has been requested for protection, but funding has been provided to assist in the purchase of only 5,600 acres. "While the PACE program still exists, there is no current state funding to support it," the board resolution said.

Board members said they fully supported the PACE program and its goals and urged the Legislature to identify "appropriate funding and staff support for this program to ensure that Wisconsin will have sufficient land to farm now and into the future."

The resolution was passed at the Aug. 14 meeting of the ag board.

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