Save a threatened resource—farmland

The Wisconsin Legislature, still known by some as the “do nothing legislature” that took a vacation from legislating during most of 2020 and has accomplished very little since then, has an excellent opportunity to demonstrate it can actually do something that is beneficial to the people of Wisconsin, is supported by Republicans and Democrats and will not be vetoed by the governor. It can pass a bill to bolster the Farmland Preservation Program.

The bill is good not just for farmers, but for all of Wisconsin’s citizens and their environment.

Farmland needs to be preserved for two reasons—to keep farming vital and to protect the countryside. The pressures of development threaten both.

Land is, of course, the raw material of farming, a valued calling in Wisconsin (as our license plate motto attests), a significant element of the state economy and a cog in the agriculture machine that feeds the world.

But farmland is also the force that keeps the countryside green. In the crop-growing season, thousands of acres of northern Ozaukee County turn green as fields of corn, soybeans, alfalfa, hay and wheat sprout and thrive. Not a sea of green like the plains of Kansas, this is a verdant patchwork that includes the untillable land that is part of every farm, which supports the small forests, brush and wetlands that add aesthetic character to land and provide habitat for animals and plants.

Since 2010, Wisconsin has lost about a million acres of farmland, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The  Farmland Preservation Program was in effect during those years, but failed to attract enough participation by farmers to stem the tide of conversion of farmland to residential and commercial development sites. A bill now before the Legislature makes changes to bring more land into the program.

Like the program it would replace, the bill offers farmers a per-acre tax credit for signing a contract to keep land in agriculture for a set number of years and meet state soil and water conservation standards, but to enhance the appeal of the program it provides a more generous credit and reduces the number of years the land is under contract.

Farmers whose land is in farmland preservation zoning districts, such as those in the Towns of Belgium and Fredonia, qualify for the program.

The bill does not change the conservation requirements that make the program an essential element in the state’s water quality protection efforts.

To get the tax credit, farmers have to comply with standards that limit phosphorus and  animal waste runoff—pollution sources that contribute to algae blooms that foul waterways and lakes.

In a sign of the bill’s combined benefits to the environment and agriculture, both The Nature Conservancy and the Wisconsin Farm Bureau are among its backers.

Currently, 11,000 farms representing 2.1 million of the state’s 14.2 million acres of farmland are in the preservation program.

Wisconsin’s farmland should be viewed as a precious and perishable natural resource. Once it is taken and converted for housing developments and commercial uses, it is gone forever.

The Legislature can do something meaningful to protect that resource by passing the bill to strengthen the Farmland Preservation Program.


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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494


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