Groups of farmers and local governments have proposed that more than 200,000 acres be considered for designation as Agricultural Enterprise Areas (AEA), contiguous blocks of mainly agricultural land that are targeted for agricultural preservation and agricultural development by the local community.

“Agricultural Enterprise Areas are part of Wisconsin’s Working Lands Initiative and provide a unique way to identify areas that will remain in agriculture which in turn slows the loss of farmland,” said Secretary Rod Nilsestuen, Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP). “An AEA designation can encourage future agricultural development in areas that have support from the local community which can lead to economic development.”

In response to the first-ever call for petitions, the department received twelve requests for designation totaling 222,000 acres. More than 150 landowners, 25 city and town governments and 11 county governments signed the petitions submitted for consideration. The 12 petitions were received from Bayfield, Chippewa, Dane, Dodge, Jefferson, Langlade, Polk, Rock, St. Croix, Shawano and Waukesha counties.

“The petition process required landowners to talk with one another and to work with their local government to discuss plans and future goals for their area. We’ve heard from several farmers that was a valuable part of the process,” Nilsestuen said.

Nilsestuen further explained that some of the petitions would incorporate some twists on traditional agriculture.

“Several of the petitions include a focus on renewable energy or energy conservation while other petitions are making a connection to local foods with community supported agriculture and organic production,” Nilsestuen said. “Another petition is looking to increase vegetable production to support the local food processing industry.”

Once an area is officially designated as an AEA, eligible farmers owning land within the AEA may enter into a farmland preservation agreement with the state. This enables the landowners to receive tax credits in exchange for agreeing to keep their farm in agricultural use for at least 15 years.

“A team will spend the next few months evaluating the petitions and the AEAs selected for designation will be announced by June 11, 2010,” Nilsestuen said.

The state may designate a maximum of 15 AEAs or 200,000 acres by January 1, 2012 and one million acres statewide after January 1, 2012. 

After the successful petitions are chosen the area must be officially designated through Wisconsin’s rulemaking process. DATCP is authorized to follow an expedited process so the designation will go into effect January 1 of the following year. 

“Wisconsin agriculture is made of many types and sizes of farms and the petitions reflect some of that diversity,” Nilsestuen said. “With the AEAs in place, the landowners can feel secure knowing that the surrounding land will remain in agriculture and ag-related businesses can more confidently locate near their clients.”              

Source: Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade & Consumer Protection