Northern Douglas County garners agricultural enterprise area designation – Superior Telegram

SUPERIOR —The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection declared Douglas County as one of its newest additions to its agricultural enterprise area program.

The enterprise zone includes more than 32,000 acres in the towns of Amnicon, Cloverland, Lakeside, Maple and Parkland and the village of Poplar. Local governments partnered with 12 landowners to petition for the designation. It’s the first agricultural enterprise area in Douglas County and the first eligible area for county landowners to participate in the state’s Farmland Preservation Program.

“It helps existing farmers who are in that zone and … and gives them a little bit of a tax incentive that wasn’t there before,” said Mark Liebaert, Douglas County Board chairman.

The board approved applying for the designation in June on the recommendation of the land conservation committee.

“I’m glad we’re finally in,” committee member Kathryn McKenzie said.

A similar effort to get the designation about 10 years ago never gained traction, according to Jane Anklam, agriculture and horticulture specialist with the University of Wisconsin-Madison Extension in Douglas County.

“It took a lot of imagination and amazing support from a lot of farmers who said ‘dang it, we’re going to do this,’” Anklam said. “They should be super-duper proud of themselves for pulling this off.”

Agricultural enterprise area designations are important to Wisconsin’s agricultural future and support local farmland protection, the agricultural economy, environmental efforts and rural prosperity, according to DATCP.

Landowners within the enterprise area are eligible to enter into voluntary farmland preservation agreements, committing all or a portion of their farm to agricultural use and maintaining state soil and water conservation standards. In return, they may be eligible to claim the annual farmland preservation tax credit.

“Farmland throughout the state is important as a land use in terms of social, economic and environmental growth and protection,” Anklam said.

The county started working on the project to get the agricultural enterprise area approved last year, said Ashley Vande Voort, Douglas County land conservationist. She said she worked with Dustin Soyring, the lead farmer on the project, and gathered petitions from farmers and the towns in support of the designation.

“It doesn’t create different zoning rules in the area, so that’s why we decided to go with this method of making farmers eligible for farmland preservation,” Vande Voort said.

Agricultural practices can have an environmental impact on water quality, air quality and groundwater, and some practices are not sustainable and can cause damage to the environment, Anklam said. The enterprise area incentivizes farmers to stay on their land or create more farmland, she said, and it encourages practices that are economically and environmentally sustainable.

Liebaert said he wasn’t sure if the program would encourage new farms in Douglas County, but it could help existing farmers who are considering expansion.

To enroll in farmland preservation, farmers must implement land conservation methods such as a nutrient management plan, Vande Voort said. She said in exchange for their efforts, farmers receive a tax credit of $5 per acre for their property.

Matt Bolen, the new agriculture technician and wildlife damage program coordinator for Ashland, Bayfield, Douglas and Iron counties, can help with developing those plans, Vande Voort said. Bolen works in the land conservation office in Ashland County.

It helps farmers preserve farmland by implementing conservation practices that will help them over the long-term in their farming operations and gives them a financial incentive to make their operations more profitable, Vande Voort said.

“As food prices soar having locally produced food is so important to keep us fed and to hopefully maintain fair prices,” McKenzie said.


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