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Barry Schrader
Columnist

 

I write this column for the following newspaper:

  • Daily Chronicle : DeKalb County Life

The Articles started December 2007.

 

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Lessons on preserving our farmland

By Barry Schrader.................................March 31, 2009

A former Boone County official brought the answer on how to preserve DeKalb County’s precious farmland in perpetuity to the annual meeting of the DeKalb County Farmland Foundation earlier this month.
But they should have invited the County Board of Supervisors and the DeKalb County Farm Bureau, as they need to hear how simple it is. However, there was a very key player in the room in the person of State Rep. Bob Pritchard who undoubtedly has the ability to make this happen in DeKalb County by bringing all the interested groups together for once and putting a plan in place that will enable individual farm owners to ensure the preservation of their agricultural land for 99 years (by their own choice), long after they have left this world.
Everyone talks about how important it is to save our fertile acreage for agricultural purposes and how sad it is to see rural subdivisions replacing fields of corn and soybeans, but when you get right down to talking to the individual farm owners, they don’t have a clue

Fred Genrich speaks at the annual meet of DeKalb County Farmland Foundation


whether their offspring or grandchildren will sell it to the highest bidder (usually a corporate speculator or developer) for the big bucks after the current generation’s farmer is gone.

Well, Fred Genrich, the founding chairman of the Boone County Agricultural Easement and Protection Commission, had the answers and they aren’t too hard to implement if all parties interested are willing to sit down and work things out. Their county brought together the Soil and Water District, Conservation District, a consortium of granges, the Farm Bureau and the County Board of Supervisors. The DeKalb County Farmland preservation group has been spinning its wheels for years trying to figure out how to get along with the Farm Bureau and convince the county board to do something before we wait too long to save land for farming and other open space purposes.

What’s in it for the farmer? Well, the federal government has a program that determines the value of the land and the value of development rights for the life of the agreement, and will use that valuation to offset taxes for the owner for the next 15 years. If the children and grandchildren are added into a Limited Liability Corp. for the farm, they can take advantage of the same tax breaks.

State law in Illinois already spells out what entities can hold title to such development rights and since the counties are excluded, it falls to the Soil and Water District or Conservation District, according to Genrich. The county state’s attorney office also has to be brought into the picture to defend the development agreement down the road if future generations of the farm family decide to contest it.

In Boone County, a farmer came to the commission and said he wanted to assure that his 260 acres would never be anything but agricultural. They are now finalizing the paperwork to take ownership of future development rights so he can have his wish granted.

According to the 2002 USDA census, DeKalb County has 359,000 acres in agriculture while neighboring Boone County has only 146,000 acres in farmland. So there is potentially a much greater opportunity for DeKalb County to preserve significant acreage for agricultural use than any county nearby.

Anyway, Genrich brought all the documents and necessary paperwork for this county to get into the development rights business. John Horn, University of Illinois Extension director for DeKalb County, was also at the meeting and generously offered to have all the documents reproduced so Farmland Foundation leaders can begin the process of forming a task force with all interested groups involved and/or taking it to the level of the county board.

Now we will see what happens a year from now when the 2010 annual Farmland Foundation meeting is held. Will significant progress toward a plan be made, will the task be accomplished, or will we still be spinning our wheels?

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The columnist can be reached via email at :

barry815sbcglobal.net

or by snailmail at:

Barry Schrader
PO Box 851
DeKalb, Ill 60115