Apple Lake AEA Helps Lead Conservation Efforts

The Apple Lake Agricultural Enterprise Area, just east of the Mississippi River, covers almost 10,000 acres. The AEA includes the towns of Farmington and Alden in Polk County, and the town of Star Prairie in St. Croix County.

Since 2011, the Apple Lake AEA has been improving and protecting the local surface waters of the Horse Creek Watershed.

According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, Polk County lost 12.6 percent, or more than 36,000 acres, of farmland between 2002 and 2017. Polk County is working on a plan to rebuild the foundation of its farmland preservation program. The county wants to grow and expand farmland preservation in areas that have not had the opportunity to participate.

“We are going to be more specific when identifying agricultural lands that are most valuable and that have the best chance at being in a farmland preservation zoning district or designated as an AEA,” says Eric Wojchik, Polk County Conservationist.

The county is currently working with a group of local stakeholders, including farmers, to draft the plan.

The Horse Creek Watershed Council includes the area of the Apple Lake AEA. Since 2015, Timm Johnson, a local farmer and member of the group, has hosted cover crop and tillage test plots on his land to support the council’s ongoing research. This project has led to the reduction of tens of thousands of pounds of phosphorus from entering the watershed.

“Our models show that, in one year, our implementation of no-till and cover crops have resulted in 6,800 fewer pounds of phosphorus entering Cedar Lake,” says Johnson. “A one-pound reduction in phosphorus can result in a 500-pound reduction in algae growth. This means there was 3.4 million pounds less of algae in the lake.”

Polk County also hopes to work with landowners who are currently in the AEA to protect their farmland.

Landowners within the Apple Lake AEA are eligible to participate in the Farmland Preservation Program through farmland preservation agreements. These agreements are a 10-year voluntary contract between the landowner and the state. During the agreement period, the landowner must keep the land in agricultural use and maintain soil and water best management practices. In return, the landowner can claim the farmland preservation tax credit. The tax credit is now $10 per acre or $12.50 if lands are also located in a certified farmland preservation zoning district.

Learn more about AEAs and the Farmland Preservation Program: