MaryBeth Matzek: Preservation program looks to keep ag economy vibrant

This is an excerpt from a column posted at BizOpinion.

To Matt Zoschke, agricultural enterprise areas aren’t just about preserving farmland. They’re also about preserving a way of life and the local economy.

Zoschke, the Clark County land conservationist, is active in two agricultural enterprise areas or AEAs in Wisconsin — Heart of America’s Dairyland, which covers land in Marathon and Clark counties, and Friends in Agriculture, which covers a swath of land in Clark County. AEAs were created by the state to encourage the preservation of agricultural land use and to promote agricultural economic development. Farmers who apply for the program and agree to use their land for agricultural purposes for at least 15 years receive tax credits.

With thousands of people descending this week and last on West Allis for the annual State Fair, it’s a good reminder of the role that agriculture plays in the state’s economy. The AEAs are part of a plan to keep those farms that are key to the state’s ag economy strong.

“Farms are an important part of the economy in many parts of our state. Farmers spend their money locally on seed, equipment and other supplies and that spending then aids other local businesses,” Zoschke says. “The tax credit money definitely stays local and helps our farm communities as it turns over several times through different local businesses. The farmer spends the money at the feed mill, which then spends the money elsewhere in the community, plus you have all those people employed in all of the related businesses.”

To create an AEA, more than 50 percent of landowners need to sign a petition that they support the creation of the zone. Once the zone is created, farmers then need to sign up individually for the program and pledge to follow the guidelines for the tax credits, Zoschke says. The AEA also sends the message to local ag businesses that their future is more secure.

Read the full column for more