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DATCP: More than 9,400 acres requested for purchase of agricultural conservation easements

Contact: Jane Larson (608) 224-5005 Office or 608-212-3094 Mobile

MADISON— In response to the first-ever request for Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easement (PACE) funding, 36 applicants have requested matching funds to protect 9,400 acres of Wisconsin’s best farmland. Applications to the program, which is part of the Working Lands Initiative, came in from farms across Wisconsin.

“Agriculture is a $59 billion annual business that means more than 1 in 10 jobs in the state, so it’s essential that we protect our working lands,” Sec. Rod Nilsestuen said. “I am very pleased that farmers across the state are applying for the Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easements so that our rich soils can be farmed by future generations.”

Applications, which were due on June 1, were filed by one city, two towns, four counties and six local land trusts on behalf of 36 different farmers in Columbia, Dane, Dodge, Iowa, Jefferson, La Crosse, Marathon, Waukesha, and Waupaca counties.

Under the PACE program, DATCP will provide up to 50 percent 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.

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 scoring criteria include: consistency with county and local farmland preservation planning and zoning, the level of community support and the proximity to other protected land.

Ranked applications will be presented to the PACE Advisory Council on July 15th, where the Council will provide recommendations to DATCP for funding. Selected applications will be announced by August 1st, 2010. Following Council recommendation and preliminary selection, grant contracts between the state of Wisconsin and the cooperating groups will be prepared.

Tom Lyon, the chair of 17-member PACE Council assures that the program is a means to balance growth while preserving long-term agriculture.

“Communities can use easements as a voluntary tool to provide long-term stability for areas best suited for agriculture while deciding which locations are better suited for development,” Lyon explained. “ The PACE council will rank properties higher that are further out and are more likely to support agriculture into the future, while properties that are close to development or future growth will rank lower.”

A second call for applications by DATCP is anticipated in early 2011.

For more information about the PACE Program, contact Lisa Schultz at LisaJ.Schultz@Wisconsin.gov, or 608-224-4604.

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