Local units of government and nonprofit conservation organizations interested in permanent preservation of farmland can now apply for matching funds for the purchase of agricultural conservation easements.
"By working with willing sellers, a conservation easement is placed on high quality farmland to ensure that productive agricultural land remains available for future generations of farmers," said Secretary Rod Nilsestuen, Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. "The landowner is compensated for placing these restrictions on the property."
Under the PACE program, DATCP will provide matching funds to cooperating entities to purchase permanent easements. The landowner retains ownership and continues to farm but the easement permanently restricts non-agricultural development of the property. The easement remains with the land and all future landowners are bound by the terms of the easement.
"PACE is another opportunity for local government, farmers and supporting groups to determine what land should be preserved and remain as farmland," Nilsestuen said.
The local applicants seek funding, not the landowner. Interested groups must first complete the application form available on the department's website at workinglands.wi.gov. To be eligible for funding, applications must meet the following requirements:
- The entire property must be located in a farmland preservation area designated in the county's certified farmland preservation plan.
- A qualified farm conservation plan must be in effect for the property.
- At least 50 percent of the property must be cropland, pasture, or grassland.
- The land must produce at least $6,000 in gross farm revenues during the tax year in which the application is made or $18,000 during the last three years.
- All owners of the affected land must sign a statement indicating that they are willing to convey the proposed agricultural conservation easement.
Applications will be scored and ranked according to a number of evaluation criteria such as the soil quality for farming, the size of the farm and the percentage of land on the property devoted to cropland, pasture and grassland. Other factors include: consistency with county and local farmland preservation planning and zoning, the level of community support and the proximity to other protected land.
"Our goal is to protect blocks of productive farmland and to encourage communities to use easements in conjunction with other farmland preservation tools," said Tom Lyon, chair of the agency's 17-member PACE Council. "Easements shouldn't be considered as a way to stop growth. Rather, they are a voluntary tool for communities that want to promote and stabilize farming in locations that are best suited to agriculture over the long-run," Lyon said.
Lyon notes that, "Under the ranking system developed by the PACE Council, properties too close to development or future growth will score lower than properties that are further out and that will have a better chance of supporting agriculture well into the future."
Applications must be submitted by June 1, 2010. DATCP will evaluate applications in consultation with the PACE Advisory Council. Selected applications will be announced by August 1, 2010. Following this preliminary selection, grant contracts between the state of Wisconsin and the cooperating groups will be prepared.
Farmers and other interested parties can learn more about the PACE program and Wisconsin's Working Lands Initiative at upcoming workshops scheduled for April. More details on the workshops will be available in coming weeks.
For more information about the PACE Program, contact Lisa Schultz at LisaJ.Schultz@Wisconsin.gov, or 608-224-4604.