Walker guts farmland preservation efforts

JESSICA VANEGEREN | The Capital Times 

Farmland will be less expensive to develop and harder for farm families to permanently protect under a series of proposals in Gov. Scott Walker’s budget.

The governor’s plans to eliminate the farmland conversion fee and a farmland preservation program still in its infancy gut key components of the Working Lands Initiative. The moves hand developers a victory and deal conservationists and those who want to keep farmland in the family a blow.

The Working Lands Initiative was a package of programs championed by the late Rod Nilsestuen, who served as the state agriculture secretary from 2003 until his death last July, and signed into law by Gov. Jim Doyle.

“Rod would be sickened and angered by what is being proposed,” says Bill Berry, a spokesman with American Farmland Trust, a group that works to stop the loss of productive farmland. “If he were alive, he would tell you that we don’t have to save every inch of farmland, just the best. In places like Rock County, we’re talking about rich soil, 6 feet deep. You can’t get that back once it’s gone.”

The conversion fee Walker is proposing to eliminate has been around in one form or another since the late 1970s.

It got more teeth on Jan. 1, 2010, when it was reconfigured from what many considered to be a complicated formula to a straightforward one that prices rezoned land within special “farmland preservation districts” at three times the assessed value for the property.

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