Occasionally it happens in farming towns where one farmer questions the restrictions of the A-1 zoning classification. This is a normal response and as said happens occasionally because A-1 zoning does inhibit land choices, where some land uses and site densities are proscribed in Exclusive Ag districts.
Private house sites generally require 40 acres, which in turn curtails an amorphous sort of rural scene. There are towns in Portage County whose zoning style is immediately evident on crossing into their jurisdiction, where housing is scattered as in the words of a children’s rhyme, “higgeledy-piggeldy.”
The town of Plover where I farm was recently asked to consider a less-restrictive zoning, and I thought it a good opportunity to review the benefits of A-1 zoning, and to counter that request for lesser zoning with an even more protective zoning request known as the exclusive ag enterprise zone.
Recently the Department of Defense, to better understand national security in terms of resources, created a list of priority sites. Places that in the light of war, terrorism, national emergency or the more casual floods, storms, and tornados need special attention for the sake of their net worth to our collective national security.
The greater Central Sands region made that strategic list, as did the ports of Superior and Milwaukee; the Marshfield Clinic made the list as did the University of Wisconsin. Sites deemed strategic if not irreplaceable but close. One of these being that irrigated construct we now call the Central Sands whose only competitor in vegetable production has an endless summer season as is typical of California’s Inner Valleys.
Against California production it is a strange thing to pose the Central Sands where winter rules six months of the year, in some ways consistent with the expression “with their arm tied behind their back.” That productive are the Central Sands, with place names we all know: Plover, Ellis, Nekoosa, Plainfield, Almond, Coloma, Hancock, even to include Rosholt and Wild Rose and with this landscape a collection of farmers, some of whom have survived that episodic business for five, six, even seven generations.
A lot of farm experience it is and has a bright role in America’s future with one caveat, if we preserve the resource. To hint here that New Jersey’s role in vegetable production is rapidly waning, Florida’s production lands are genuinely threatened from several directions, California’s ag lands likewise are squeezed by water issues and population pressure such that its future is uncertain. That may well leave good ol’ C.W. as the standard-bearer for a range of vegetable production we have only begun to tap.
Where with managed irrigation we can produce a category of food-direct items that will dwarf what we currently provide, again that proviso, if the resource is preserved intact. To include the soils, the waters, the recharge, the operational latitude, production options, and most important, the permanence of the land-water community.
A-1 zoning and Exclusive Ag-Enterprise Zones are a defense of soil types, suitable topography and landscape space, all are critical to modern agriculture. And even more a factor as farm scale increases, with ever more efficient and some would say gigantic harvest equipment that, when combined with the contract acreage, needs an operational margin for public safety as well as the certain immiscibility of some farm chores.
Chemical spraying comes to mind as does the flex that high-cap wells put on the aquifer, not thought neighborly when land use is heavily mixed. A-1 zoning is critical to protecting the nuanced recharge of irrigated agriculture. When lands give up their A-1 zoning, this betrays those lands as transitional, in other words, “up for grabs,” no longer a vital part of agriculture.
To suspect that in the near future anything less than A-1 zoning will be enough to trigger the reassessment of a high-cap well permit. Obviously as the easiest way to administer water conflicts when production farmland is no longer the priority.
Portage County, sited as it is in the Central Sands domain, could and should enter into an active discussion of Exclusive Ag-Enterprise Zone. To identify the resources and establish long-term protections to these core resources. Agricultural practices should not be squeezed toward an ever more dense use as puts specific stress on essential components including aquifer recharge.
The sustainability of an ag-zone is linked to its generous size, a zone to include lands ordinarily not viewed as vital to agriculture; marshes, wetlands and wooded forties are now known to play a critical role for production agriculture. So much so that future irrigation management may well hinge on some golden ratio of irrigated acreage to available recharge.
The bottom-line goal is obvious: a sustainable farmscape, an intact self-renewing landscape able to produce at a high and consistent level, able to provide for an enduring economy, to counteract climate change, and accomplish this as an art form, to suggest the farm sector and its collective landscape is an art form. These are the ends of A-1 zoning and beyond, Exclusive Ag-Enterprise Zones; sustainability, productivity, lovely to behold and lovely to live in.