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WI Budget Could Plow Under Farmland Preservation

April 12, 2011

MADISON, Wis. - Wisconsin had been losing about 30,000 acres of farmland a year to development and other causes when a program to turn that around was enacted two years ago. Now, Governor Scott Walker wants to cut the PACE program, which protects farms by purchasing conservation easements. PACE provides funds for local governments and conservation groups to buy the easements, which keep farmland from being turned into housing, shopping malls and industrial sites.

Jefferson County farmer Ron Lea enrolled in the program, with the desire, at age 62, to keep his farm in the family.

"I've been on this farm all my life and I'd like to see it continue to be a farm."

Last year, 16 farms in six counties made it into the program with about $5 million in easements ready to be purchased. Now, those farmers are up in the air, with the financing on hold.

Lea says PACE is very specific in its goal of maintaining the land as a working farm, by blocking other uses once the easements are purchased.

"That means any development or gravel pits or even wind farms put on these premises. I'd like to see it stay farming and agricultural forever."

Budget hearings have been held over the past two weeks across the state, but the governor has already signaled he wants to cut the PACE program.

Glen Gardner, Public News Service - WI