Preserving farmland, preserving the economy
JANESVILLE Farmland preservation is often seen as the opposite of economic development, a way to tie-up land that might otherwise be used for housing developments, shopping malls or a new industrial park.
In Rock County, however, farmland preservation means economic development and growth.
At 6:30 p.m. Thursday, the Rock County Planning, Economic and Community Development Agency is hosting an open house at the Rock County Courthouse to showcase the draft of the updated farmland preservation plan. The draft combines planning and zoning maps developed by each of the county’s 20 towns. The county’s planning department then worked with the towns to create a comprehensive map.
For farmers and rural residents, the plan will allow them to see changes in the rules. In the past, parcels smaller than 35 acres were not eligible to be part of the farmland preservation program and its tax credits.
But the plan is important to more than farmers and rural residents.
“What we have tried to do is become more comprehensive about agriculture,” said Paul Benjamin, planning director.
As such, the farm preservation plan is part of a larger agricultural plan for the county.
A map labeled “Agriculture Community and Economy,” shows the businesses and infrastructure related to the ag economy. Food processing facilities, dairy and meat plants, food warehouses, ethanol factories and recognized organic farms are all marked on the map. In addition, companies such as DeLong’s Applied Ecological Services, Blaine Supply, Tracy Seeds, Gavilon Grain and Landmark Service Cooperative are marked.
According to the UW Extension, Rock County agriculture accounts for $1.45 billion in business sales and contributes almost $445 million to the county’s income.
That’s why farmland preservation is so important, Benjamin said. Without that land, that business goes away.
“This is not just corn standing in fields, this is the ag economy,” Benjamin said.