A farmland preservation amendment to the town of Union’s Comprehensive Plan was considered by the Union Town Board.
There were no objections to the proposal during a public hearing held prior to the board’s April 7 meeting. The amendment was recommended by the Comprehensive Planning Committee.
The amendment qualifies about 20,000 acres in the town of Union for $7.50 per acre in income tax credits through the state’s Farmland Preservation Program.
About 450 of these acres (involving 16 landowners) will need to be re-zoned from Agriculture Woodland Transition (AWT) to Agriculture Retention (AR).
The purpose of the amendment is to encourage agriculture use of land within the township.
“Farmland is dwindling,” said Ryan Brown, Planning and Zoning director for Waupaca County.
He noted that the town’s participation in the incentive program does not guarantee the acres will be retained as farmland.
With the amendment, Union joins seven other Waupaca County towns in qualifying acreage for the Farmland Preservation Program. Participating towns are Lind, Scandinavia, St. Lawrence, Matteson, Little Wolf, Lebanon, Union and Bear Creek.
Even if people own acreage that qualifies for the Farmland Preservation Program, participation is decided by individual landowners on a year-to-year basis.
In order to qualify for $7.50 per acre in income tax credits, a landowner must show gross revenue of $6,000 annually and also participate in a Nutrient Management Program certified through the Land & Water Conservation Department.
Dave Heideman, a member of the town’s Comprehensive Planning Committee, urged landowners to apply for the NMP program as soon as possible.
“Don’t wait until the last minute,” he said. “It doesn’t pay to start (NMP) after you join.”
The township’s approximate 20,000 qualifying acreage includes acreage suitable to long-term farming, plus some woodland and wetlands.
The Wisconsin Working Lands Initiative was signed into law in 2009 and is comprised of three programs: Farmland Preservation Program, Agricultural Enterprise Area (AEA) Program, and Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easement (PACE) Program.
The PACE program provided state funding for the purchase of agricultural conservation easements. The easements are deed restrictions that landowners voluntarily place on their properties to protect productive agricultural land.
In 2010, six landowners in Waupaca County were awarded PACE agreements by the Department of Agriculture Trade and Consumer Protection, totaling over 3,300 acres in protected farmland. However, the 2011-2013 biennial budget eliminated PACE funding temporarily.
Enacted in 1977, the original Wisconsin Farmland Preservation Program was designed to preserve Wisconsin farmland by means of local land use planning and soil conservation practices and to provide property tax relief to eligible farmland owners.
The new law required counties to update their farmland preservation plans. Waupaca County’s Farmland Preservation Plan was adopted by the Waupaca County Board and certified in 1981.
The preservation of Wisconsin’s working lands is critical for the future of agriculture, maintaining the environment, and sustaining a healthy economy.
Wisconsin’s farms and agricultural businesses generate $59.16 billion in economic activity and provide jobs for 353,991 people, according to a 2007 study conducted by University of Wisconsin-Extension.
Over recent decades, Wisconsin’s working lands have been threatened by urban sprawl to accommodate population growth.
Over the past 60 years, Waupaca County has experienced steady population growth as its total population increased from 35,056 in 1950 to 52,410 in 2010. The county’s population is expected to grow by 12-20 percent over the next 20 years.
Currently about 35 percent (173,363 acres) of the county’s land is used for agriculture. A total of 206,308 acres, of 42 percent of the land is classified as woodland.
Wisconsin has had an 18 percent decline in the number of acres of farmland between 1980 and 2007. Waupaca County experienced a 20 percent decline in farmland between 1974 and 2007, the UW-Extension study found.
In Waupaca County, agriculture generates $871.9 million (24 percent of the county’s total) annually in economic activity. The county is home to major cheese plants and food processors.