Program could benefit farmers who want cash for land

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Sunday, November 25, 2007
— It’s too soon to know if it will work, but Rock County is mulling over a new option for farmers who are looking to get cash for farmland but keep control of the farm.

The land conservation committee is talking about a purchase of development rights program. With PDR, people or organizations get government grants or cash from conservation groups to buy a conservation easement on a farm at development price rather than agricultural price.

A developer might pay twice what another farmer will pay for fields, said committee Chairman Neil Deupree.

The land goes into a permanent conservation easement. Development would be forbidden, but the land could be farmed, and the farmer would keep control of it.

“The overall point is that right now, farmers are really pressured to consider selling good farmland for development because the price is so much higher,” Deupree said. “The issue is encouraging development in ways that are most efficient.”

Deupree said the best place for easements is out in the country where cities don’t plan to grow.

Rock County doesn’t know if or how PDR would work, but the program’s been working well in Dunn Township for 10 years.

The town acts as the primary agent and partners with government and private groups to buy farms, said Renee Lauber, Dunn’s land use manager. Dunn bought easements on 3,000 acres of farmland since the plan was approved by referendum in 1996, Lauber said.

Partners included the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the United States Department of Agriculture, Dane County and the Natural Heritage Land Trust.

“I feel people in the town have an additional choice,” Lauber said. “Farmers are land rich and cash poor. I think (PDR) has been appreciated by a lot of farmers in the town of Dunn.”

The town itself sees benefits, Lauber said. Bordered by Lake Kegonsa, Stoughton, Oregon, Fitchburg, McFarland and Lake Waubesa, Dunn has its share of development pressure. PDR has kept it orderly, Lauber said.

“Now we have a boundary agreement with McFarland,” she said. “Before we had the program they had no reason to sit down at the table and talk to us. It’s been a wonderful planning tool.”

Controlling development also controls taxes, Lauber said.

“Like I always say, cows don’t go to school or call 911.”

Last updated: 9:54 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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