Janesville37.3°

La Prairie, Turtle apply to ag enterprise program

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ANN MARIE AMES
July 3, 2010
— It’s not what you picture when you think “business district.”

No bustling shoppers or hectic office buildings.


It’s just row upon row of quietly growing crops.


Officials and property owners in La Prairie Township want to keep it that way.


The towns of La Prairie and Turtle have applied to participate in the Agricultural Enterprise Areas program, which is part of the state’s Working Lands Initiative.


An evaluation team last week recommended the La Prairie application be approved. The final decision will be made later this year.


The enterprise areas program will help preserve Wisconsin farmland and support high-quality agricultural production, said La Prairie Town Board Chairman Mike Saunders.


“We contacted the Department of Agriculture and said, ‘We think we not only walk the agriculture game here in La Prairie. We believe in it.’”


To be considered, an application must include contiguous properties that are primarily used for farmland. They must be designated as farmland preservation area in a certified county farmland preservation map.


In addition to a long checklist of qualifications, applicants had to answer a long list of questions about the farmland.


The La Prairie application cites the high quality of the local soil, the wide variety of crops produced, the high yields produced, the number of corporate partners with stakes in the land and the low average age of the participating producers.


Those factors contribute to a high rate of return on the state’s investment, Saunders said.


The application includes 33 producers who own 22,162 acres in La Prairie and Turtle townships, which are between Beloit and Janesville.


The La Prairie application was one of 12 that have gotten preliminary approval by the state. The approval process will include a public hearing. The applications are expected to be approved later this year.


If an area is accepted into the program, participating producers will qualify to enter into voluntary 15-year contracts with the state. Producers must agree to keep their land in agricultural use.


In turn, they will qualify for tax credits.


The ideas of preserving farmland and supporting quality agriculture fit with the long-term view for land use in La Prairie Township, Saunders said.


“These are just planning tools,” Saunders said.


“This is a planning tool that makes our economic base a more believable, viable entity.”


MORE ABOUT LOCAL FARMLAND PRESERVATION

While Wisconsin’s new Working Lands Initiative gets underway, a group is working to design a similar program here in Rock County.


The PACE/PDR committee is studying what a Rock County farmland preservation program would look like and what it would take to get it started.


If it comes to fruition, the program would pay farmers for the value of their property and restrict the potential future uses of the land, county planner Wade Thompson said recently at a Rock County farm tour.


Money to buy the land would come mostly from federal programs as well as the Working Lands Initiative.


The next committee meeting is not set. Minutes and agendas can be found at www.co.rock.wi.us.



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