County supervisors will soon vote on significant changes to the Waupaca County Farmland Preservation Plan.
The changes will take effect in 2015.
Under the Farmland Preservation Plan enacted in 1981, farmers throughout the county could enter into long-term contracts, according to Ryan Brown, the county zoning director.
“The original program encompassed areas in all townships of the county,” Brown said. “It was based on landowner preference and not tied to zoning.”
Under the new program, only eight towns in the county have farms that are eligible to participate: Bear Creek, Lebanon, Lind, Little Wolf, Matteson, Scandinavia and Union.
Instead of long-term contracts with the county’s Land and Water Conservation Department (LWCD), farmers will have to file claims for a credit on their state income tax forms.
The annual Farmland Preservation tax credit is worth $7.50 per acre.
To be eligible, the land must be located in a certified Farmland Preservation area. Those seeking the credit must have $6,000 in gross farm revenues from the prior year of $18,000 total from the past three years.
Landowners must also be in compliance with state soil and water conservation standards and submit a certification of compliance that has been issued by the county LWCD.
“Farmland Preservation is like a gateway drug to better conservation,” said LWCD Director Brian Haas. “It’s an incentive program to trade tax credits for compliance with some of the state’s conservation rules.”
Haas said state standards require that livestock operations have no overflow of manure storage facilities, no unconfined manure piles in a Water Quality Management Area, no direct runoff from feedlots into surface or ground water and no unlimited access by livestock to surface water.
To avoid agricultural pollution, the county LWCD helps farmers develop a management plan designed specifically for their farm.
The plan will recommend structural changes, such as gutters and channels, that divert rain water away from feedlots and manure storage areas.
“If a farmer comes in and wants to participate in Farmland Preservation, we can offer him cost sharing on how to implement a plan if the funds are available. If they are not available, we can offer tax credits,” Haas said.
Brown said the county looked at the quality of the soil, existing agricultural enterprises and environmental corridors as criteria for determining which areas would be eligible for Farmland Preservation.
Just over 129,000 acres in Waupaca County will be eligible for the tax credits in 2015.
Brown also noted another goal of Farmland Preservation is to steer residential and commercial development away from high-value farm areas.
However, farmland will continue to have the same development rights as it does under the towns’ comprehensive plans.
Although development rights for land zoned Ag Enterprise or Ag Retention vary by town, the county has a ratio of one right per 40 acres in Ag Enterprise and one right for 10 acres in Ag Retention.
That means a 200-acre farm in an Ag Enterprise has five development rights under the county’s zoning ordinance and can build up to five homes if the town does not have a more restrictive ratio.
“Farmland Preservation is not making any changes in the ratios,” Brown said. “Those planned areas in the Farmland Preservation areas are static. They can’t be changed to create new development rights.”
Brown said under the old plan, landowners could not transfer rights from non-contiguous parcels.
If a farmer had three 80-acre parcels, the development rights could only be used on each parcel.
“Now, you can transfer the development rights from other parcels to a single parcel,” Brown said. “It is more flexible.”
For more information about Farmland Preservation eligibility, contact Brian Haas at 715-258-6245.
For more information on Farmland Preservation development rights, contact Brown at 715-258-6255.