A celebration of Wisconsin’s PACE program was held Saturday, Aug. 11, at the Brooks Farm located south of Waupaca.
The goal of the Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easements (PACE) program is to protect farmland from commercial and residential development.
Preserving their land for farming is especially meaningful to Ron and Terri Brooks, who have about 1,100 acres protected by the PACE program.
Ron Brooks said he decided about 10 years ago to find a way to protect his farmland from the four D’s – death, disease, drought and divorce.
“We’re not anti-development,” Brooks said. “We just encourage development not to be on prime farm land.”
He noted that most farmers end up selling out to the highest bidder, who is usually a developer.
Consequently, participating in the PACE program was a way for him to avoid the old adage of “the last crop a farmer grows is houses,” Brooks said.
“If we continue developing on farmland, we aren’t going to be able to feed the world,” he said, noting the world’s population is estimated to grow to nine billion by 2025.
Three years ago, Wisconsin was ranked among the top 10 percent in the U.S. for farmland lost, Brooks noted.
“We can now be sure that this land will remain productive farmland forever,” he said.
The decision to apply for the PACE program was easy for Doug and Mary Behnke, of Clintonville. They were assured of the program’s value after participating in a Waupaca County tour to Pennsylvania, Maryland and New Jersey.
“I saw what they were doing out there and how they were protecting farmland,” Doug Behnke said. “The PACE program protects our land and gives our children an opportunity to farm.”
“In this day and age when there are not many farmers left, even a small amount (preserved through PACE) helps,” said Ross Turner, of Waupaca. “A program like this sets an example.”
Turner owns Turner’s Fresh Market, which has the smallest amount of property (about 112 acres) in Wisconsin’s PACE program.
Six farms in Waupaca County were among the 16 statewide to be selected for the (PACE program.
Totaling 3,500 acres, the six Waupaca County PACE farms include: Ross Turner, 112 acres, Farmington; Doug and Mary Behnke, 567 acres, Bear Creek; Breezy Hill Farms, LLC, 294 acres, Lind; Brooks Farms, 1,062 acres, Lind; Don and Diane Konrad, 347 acres, Bear Creek; Sandy-Valley Farms, 921 acres, Scandinavia.
After the properties were approved and appraised, the owners were paid 50 percent of the assessed value. The other 50 percent was a donation (with tax credit) to the county.
The farmers said they reinvested the PACE funds into the purchase of more land.
“Implementing the state’s PACE program has been challenging at times, but is worth the time, effort and resources invested,” said Greg Blonde, Waupaca County UW-Extension agriculture agent.
The 3,500 acres of Waupaca County farmland now permanently protected on these six PACE farms is a great start,” she added. “Hopefully the PACE program will continue to be supported in the future.”
Brooks Farms was homesteaded in 1855 and is currently owned by Ron and Terri Brooks. The celebration event included tours of the dairy and grain operation, a social hour, pig roast and program, followed by live music.
The program highlighted other PACE farms from across Wisconsin, including local and statewide supporters who helped make PACE a reality.