Farmland preservation bill clears State Senate, State Senator Pfaff and Representative Oldenburg helping move the legislation forward

MADISON, Wis. – State Senator Brad Pfaff (D-Onalaska) and the Wisconsin State Senate passed bipartisan legislation to improve Wisconsin’s Farmland Preservation Program on September 14. The changes to the program include an increase in the tax credits that can be earned as well as a decrease in the minimum length of farmland preservation agreements.

State Senator Brad Pfaff (32nd) and State Representative Loren Oldenburg (96th)

Pfaff co-authored the legislation in the Senate and Assembly and released the following statement after the bill’s passage:

“Wisconsin’s agriculture industry generates $107 billion in economic activity each year,” said Pfaff. “As the leading contributor to our state’s economy and a vital part of our heritage, we need to continue to think creatively and advance innovative solutions to support Wisconsin agriculture. Wisconsin agriculture continues to grow. However, the Farmland Preservation Program has not kept up with this growth. This bill provides our farmers with the resources to conserve our soil and water. As these farmers know, healthier soil will produce higher yields.”

State Senator Brad Pfaff

“Many family farmers have participated in the Farmland Preservation Program since its inception, but unfortunately we’ve seen a decline in participation over the past 15 years,” Pfaff continued. “The changes in this bill make the program more accessible and beneficial for Wisconsin’s family farmers, and encourage the next generation to enter the agriculture field. This legislation is a win-win – a win for soil health and water quality, and a win for production agriculture.”

State Representative Oldenburg (R-Viroqua), helped introduce the legislation in the assembly and echoed Pfaff’s support for the program changes. Oldenburg said Wisconsin lost nearly one million acres of farmland between 2010 and 2021. He said the legislation was drafted to help reverse that trend by updating the program.

“We’re making this program more responsive to the needs of farmers and the environment,” noted Rep. Oldenburg. “Our efforts have led to support from farmers, conservationists, and folks from across the political spectrum.”

State Representative Loren Oldenburg

The bill incentivizes farmers to participate in the longstanding program that helps preserve farmland and safeguard soil and water by shortening the required length of participation and increasing the size of the tax credits offered.

The Farmland Preservation Program was introduced in the 1970s to help incentivize conservation practices and was updated in 2009. But recent numbers show a decline in participation. In 2010, more than 15,000 farmers were claiming the farmland preservation tax credit with almost 3 million acres of land in the state enrolled. Today, claims average around 11,000 with about 2.1 million acres enrolled.

Producers can access the program in a couple of ways. The most common way is by living in a certified farmland preservation zoning district, which is adopted by their city, town or county, and choosing to enroll in the program. A local community can also petition to create an Agricultural Enterprise Area, under which farmers can sign a 15-year farmland preservation agreement with the state.

What does the bill do?

The bill increases the per-acre tax credit farmers can claim. This addresses one of the main concerns producers expressed about the program and likely accounted for the drop in participation. Farmers often said the cost of meeting conservation requirements were not worth the incentives received.

  • An increase from $7.50 to $10 per acre for farms that are in a farmland preservation zoning district but not subject to a preservation agreement.
  • An increase from $5 to $10 per acre for farms that are subject to a preservation agreement but not in a farmland preservation zoning district.
  • An increase from $10 to $12.50 per acre for farms that are both in a farmland preservation zoning district and subject to a preservation agreement.
  • A new, $10-per-acre tax credit for farms that are located in a farmland preservation area and covered by an agricultural conservation easement.

It also decreases the length of time that farmers who participate under the Agricultural Enterprise Area have to stick to their contract, from 15 years to 10 years.

In return for the incentives farmers have to comply with Wisconsin’s soil and water conservation standards such as limiting soil erosion and phosphorus runoff, having a nutrient management plan and properly disposing of animal waste. Producers are inspected for compliance by local land and water departments periodically.

A provision in the bill that would have provided funds to local land conservation offices, who will likely see their workload increase because of the changes, was taken out of the bill, but separate legislation to help local conservation offices was passed. According to Representative Oldenburg’s office county conservation staff will be receiving $4.25 million dollars this biennium to help support their positions.

In a recent column Oldenburg said “These conservation positions help create land and water resource management plans, administer the farmland preservation program, and regulate livestock. County conservation staff are also the first point of contact for landowners who are struggling with soil erosion or water pollution. Supporting these positions helps keep landowners connected to valuable information and their land and water on par with conservation standards.”

Who supports it?

The bill received wide bipartisan support in the Assembly and the Senate as well as support from most of the state’s agricultural organizations, including the Wisconsin Farm Bureau, the Dairy Business Association, the state’s soybean, corn, cranberry and potato and vegetable groups. The bill was also supported Wisconsin Land and Water but there was a provision that was taken out that would have provided funding to local and and water departments to help get producers into the program.

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