Nov 06, 2013

Harsdorf Bill Would Expand AEAs

A bill sponsored by state Sen. Sheila Harsdorf of River Falls would raise the cap on agricultural enterprise areas from 1 million to 2 million acres.

AEAs have proven to be a popular addition to the state’s farmland protection toolbox. They were supported by American Farmland Trust, Gathering Waters Conservancy and other partners that worked for passage of the Wisconsin Working Lands Initiative in 2009. The initiative updated and enhanced the state’s farmland preservation tools.

There are 25 AEAs totaling about 750,000 acres in 19 counties, 72 towns, and one reservation. The Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection is currently seeking petitions for another round of AEAs. Wisconsin has about 15,000 acres of farmland.

Sen. Harsdorf’s bill would allow for growth of the AEA program, which provides state tax credits for farmers, keeps land in agriculture, and stimulates local farm economies. AEAs are blocks of land that are primarily in agricultural use, either for farming or for businesses that serve the farming sector.  They are created when local governments together with at least five local landowners petition the DATCP and the department approves the designation. 

Farmers within the AEA to receive state tax credits ranging from $5 to $10 per acre if they enter farmland preservation agreements with the department.

Sen. Harsdorf’s bill is currently being circulated for co-sponsors. Her staff expects it to be introduced to the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Small Business and Tourism, chaired by Sen. Terry Moulton of Chippewa Falls. A hearing in early 2014 is anticipated.

For more information on AEAs and other state farmland protection tools, click here.