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Wisconsin Farm Land Survey: Half is Leased

April 29, 2011

SPRING VALLEY, Wis. - About half of Wisconsin's 15 million acres of farmland is leased, and farmed by someone other than the owner. That presents challenges when it comes to managing the land so it stays healthy in the long term.

Harriet Behar, a biodynamic farmer and organic specialist with the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service, says that protecting stream banks and preventing soil erosion are frequent issues on leased farmland.

"They're paying by the acre, and it's not really their land. Their main point - and you can't blame them, you know - is that they're doing a business, to get as much yield out of that field as possible."

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) can help the landowner put together a contract to protect leased land and recognize when the renter is taking conservation measures, Behar says.

"It's a two-way street. So maybe they don't charge - they look at that and say 'Oh, you know, you're losing two acres here, so even though the field is technically 52 acres, we'll only charge you for 50, in recognition that you're not going to cultivate those grassy areas and we can protect the streambanks,' or whatever."

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has $50 million available to help producers plan and implement conservation practices consistent with organic production. The deadline to apply for funds is May 20.

Hands-on help is available as well, Behar says. The NRCS will walk the land with the owner and make suggestions.

"This area is highly erodible and should be dealt with, although this area over there has some risk, it's not as high as this other first place. And help the landowner because many of these things cost money, and take some thought and planning."

The people who work for the NRCS are very knowledgeable, Behar says, and can help the landowner lay out all the things that can be done to help conserve the land.

Information on the NRCS is at wi.nrcs.usda.gov.

Tim Morrissey, Public News Service - WI