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Friday, August 8, 2014

MaryBeth Matzek: Preservation program looks to keep ag economy vibrant


By MaryBeth Matzek
To Matt Zoschke, agricultural enterprise areas aren’t just about preserving farmland. They’re also about preserving a way of life and the local economy.

Zoschke, the Clark County land conservationist, is active in two agricultural enterprise areas or AEAs in Wisconsin – Heart of America’s Dairyland, which covers land in Marathon and Clark counties, and Friends in Agriculture, which covers a swath of land in Clark County. AEAs were created by the state to encourage the preservation of agricultural land use and to promote agricultural economic development. Farmers who apply for the program and agree to use their land for agricultural purposes for at least 15 years receive tax credits.

With thousands of people descending this week and last on West Allis for the annual State Fair, it’s a good reminder of the role that agriculture plays in the state’s economy. The AEAs are part of a plan to keep those farms that are key to the state’s ag economy strong.

“Farms are an important part of the economy in many parts of our state. Farmers spend their money locally on seed, equipment and other supplies and that spending then aids other local businesses,” Zoschke says. “The tax credit money definitely stays local and helps our farm communities as it turns over several times through different local businesses. The farmer spends the money at the feed mill, which then spends the money elsewhere in the community, plus you have all those people employed in all of the related businesses.”

Statewide, Wisconsin is approaching 1 million acres of land in AEAs. After Jan. 1, the state will create four new AEAs – including Friends of Agriculture – and expand a fifth – Heart of America’s Dairyland. Wisconsin will then have 29 AEAs in 22 counties, 85 towns and the Bad River Reservation, according to the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

In addition to Friends of Agriculture, other new AEAs created include Greenville Greenbelt AEA in Outagamie County, the Headwaters of Southeast Monroe County AEA and West Point AEA in Columbia County.

To create an AEA, more than 50 percent of landowners need to sign a petition that they support the creation of the zone. Once the zone is created, farmers then need to sign up individually for the program and pledge to follow the guidelines for the tax credits, Zoschke says. The AEA also sends the message to local ag businesses that their future is more secure.

“The great thing, at least in our AEAs, is that so many farmers have voiced their support for AEAs and farmland preservation,” he says. “But this is more than about preserving farmland, it’s about keeping our farms, ag related businesses, and rural communities thriving and really keeping our rural community and our way of life viable.”

Farmers markets

Did you know Wisconsin has eighth-most farmers markets in the nation?

That’s what the U.S. Department of Agriculture says. This week is National Farmers Market Week and Anne Alonzo, who leads the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, was in Madison last week to celebrate all of the state’s 295 offerings. Ten years ago, Wisconsin had 170 farm markets.

“It’s amazing how many farmers markets Wisconsin has for a state its size,” said Alonzo, while touring Rosendale Dairy in Fond du Lac County last week. Besides Madison and the state’s largest dairy farm, she also visited the Wisconsin State Fair.

“More people than ever before are interested in buying food grown locally and the USDA is really committed to helping farmers find success whether it’s selling to local residents or selling their products to food companies,” Alonzo said.

Nationwide, there are more than 8,200 farmers markets, up from just 3,700 a decade ago.

High-tech boost

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation is looking to provide $1 million in funding to entrepreneurs focused on high-tech innovation.

The new program called SBIR Advance is being administered by the University of Wisconsin- Extension’s Center for Technology Commercialization. The program is open to young companies throughout the state Funds from the program are available to recipients of federal Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) grants.

As administrator of SBIR Advance funds, CTC can match up to $75,000 of the participant’s federal SBIR/STTR Phase 1 award and up to $250,000 of their Phase 2 award. Online applications for SBIR Advance are now. More information can be found online at http://www.wisconsinsbir.org.

-- Matzek, a freelance writer and editor, is the owner of 1Bizzy Writer. She has worked in the past as a news editor at Insight Publications and as business editor at the Appleton Post-Crescent.

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