ARGYLE—An application for an Agriculture Enterprise Area (AEA) is in the works for residents in the towns of Lamont, Argyle and Blanchard.
An informational meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 18, drew a crowd of approximately 25 to First National Bank and Trust in Argyle to learn about a potential AEA in the area.
Robert Laeser of the town of Argyle, Jack Larson of the town of Lamont and Mike Berg of the town of Blanchard have collaborated with Roger Lange of the Lafayette County Conservation Department to complete the application according to state standards so farmers can earn a tax credit on their property.
“This plan that we’re talking about is pretty exhaustive,” Larson said. “There is a lot of work that goes into this. Mike, Roger, Bob and I are willing to take this on and do the writing and submit the application if we have enough interest.”
Lange explained that the Working Lands Initiative replaced the Farmland Preservation program that ended in 2009. Existing Farmland Preservation agreements will be honored until the agreement expiration date.
“Farmland Preservation was a tax credit for landowners that farmed in a certain way having a conservation plan,” Lange said. “In 2009 the Farmland Preservation plan ended and what replaced it was the Working Lands Initiative. There are still some general program requirements to participate in the Working Lands Initiative.”
To participate in the Working Lands Initiative you have to:
-Be a Wisconsin resident
-Have a minimum of $6,000 gross sales receipts in one year or $18,000 for three years
-Have a basic conservation plan that meets “T” or less on all cropland you own
-Have a nutrient management plan on all cropland where fertilizer is applied
-Follow the agriculture performance standards of no over flow of manure storage structure, no direct runoff from an animal feed lot, maintain a sod cover along the creek bank and no unconfined manure stacks within 300 feet of a stream or 1,000 feet of a lake or pond.
Lange said seven of the 18 towns within Lafayette County are not zoned exclusive ag and are not eligible for a tax credit through the Working Lands Initiative. The towns that are zoned are eligible for a $7.50 tax credit on all acreage owned if the landowner follows the program requirements. An area zoned exclusive ag and designated as an AEA would earn $10 an acre tax credit. An un-zoned town that is included in an AEA would earn $5 an acre tax credit.
The towns of Argyle and Lamont are zoned while the town of Blanchard is not.
“The only way they [un-zoned towns] can participate in the Working Lands Initiative is to form an Ag Enterprise Area,” Lange said.
An AEA was described as a minimum of five landowners with contiguous property who petition the state to form an Ag Enterprise Area. Those landowners are agreeing to receive an income tax credit in return for keeping their land in agricultural use for a minimum of 15 years. The designation as an AEA does not control or limit land use within the designated area. It was designed to help preserve, protect and promote agricultural enterprises.
Lange said Governor Walker removed the conversion fees from the Working Lands Initiative program making it easier to sell parcels of land for non-agricultural use.
Larson said they are proposing to call the project the Pecatonica AEA.
Lange said 17 AEAs were designated by the state in 2011. A limit of 1 million acres was set for the state, making the application process more challenging every year. He said there is $27 million set aside for this program and the state is currently only using $18 million for tax credits.
“We started this a year ago and we had 15 petitioners that had signed up originally, mainly from [the town of] Lamont and a little from [the town of] Argyle,” Larson said. “We put an application in to see if we could get approved and we were not accepted.”
Larson said he went to a workshop to learn what they could do to improve their application.
“Originally we were trying it with a smaller group, then we found out maybe we should work on a bigger group,” Larson said.
Laeser said the feedback the group got back about the denied application was that the proposed AEA wasn’t big enough, the boundaries were too jagged and they needed to do more to highlight the economic benefits for an AEA in the area.
“Lafayette County is the most ag-dependent county in the state,” Larson said. “I think that speaks favorably for us. If it wasn’t for ag we wouldn’t have much there. That’s a good thing. I’m proud of that.”
Larson said showing interest by signing the petition does not commit landowners to signing the final AEA 15-year agreement. He said rental income, Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and timber sales count toward the $6,000 annual income.
The application deadline is the end of March. If the application is approved by the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP), it would take effect in January 2013.
Anybody interested in participating in an AEA should contact Lange, Larson or Laeser to sign a petition of interest. Those who show interest will be included in the process of determining the new boundaries of the AEA.
Lange said there is another AEA application in the works in Lafayette County near Wiota.