The Purchase of Agricultural Easements Program (PACE) in Wisconsin faces defunding as part of Governor Scott Walker’s proposed budget. Submitted in March 1st, the budget cuts state funding for several programs, include PACE. The PACE elimination is a controversial move, dividing public opinion in Wisconsin.
Introduced under the Doyle administration, the PACE program provided state funding to local grants and nonprofit agencies to purchase agricultural conservation easements from state farmers. These easements would prohibit development of agricultural land. The development and loss of farmland in Wisconsin mirrored national trends, with several states throughout the country reporting the gradual loss of farmland as residential and industrial interests purchase and develop agricultural land. When the program was initiated, Wisconsin was losing 30,000 acres of farmland a year.
The governor’s office stated that, while it was difficult to cut agricultural programs like PACE, it was required to manage Wisconsin’s debts and balance the state budget. Amy Sue Vruwink, a Democrat and former Assembly Agriculture Committee Chair, blasted the cut, stating that it put Wisconsin farming and agricultural production at risk. Bill Berry, spokesman for the American Farmland Trust, also criticized the decision, claiming that Wisconsin’s best farmland is at risk of disappearing.
When the economic downturn ends, Berry and others predict that the loss of farmland will continue in Wisconsin, threatening agricultural jobs and the overall health of the state economy.
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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer