Dunn County family pursues farming deal over frac sand future - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

Dunn County family pursues farming deal over frac sand future

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Town of Grant (WQOW) - Drive anywhere in Wisconsin, and you're bound to see a farm. They dot the landscape from Hudson to Green Bay to Milwaukee.  In western Wisconsin, there's a precious commodity beneath those farmlands: sand.  Sand companies are paying big bucks to get access.  Here's an example:  State records show a property owner in Barron County sold 120 acres to a Texas sand company for $5.5 million.  That's $46,000 an acre. 

Sand companies have knocked on many doors in recent years, looking to access the frac sand under the farm land.  So is farming Wisconsin's past and sand mining Wisconsin's future? If you ask the Dietsche's from Dunn County, it's a resounding no.

Farming has been in the Dietsche's blood for decades.

"I'm fifth generation farm. My son will be sixth generation," says Dunn County farmer Mark Dietsche. "As everybody knows, the farms are declining. I mean we're definitely a smaller and smaller percent of the population of the United States, and especially in Wisconsin."

And Mark knows his farm is smack dab in the middle of a potential gold mine.

"This hill here is signed up to mine. But we own the land around it, and we own all this bluff over to here," says Mark, pointing to a map. "I cut a road between some fields through the bluff and actually the frac sand in our bluff, we hit it about 3 feet down. We probably could frac sand, at minimum 16 million ton of frac sand."

But even though he knows his land could be worth millions to sand companies, he won't sell.

"I certainly wouldn't begrudge anyone that sold their land for that kind of money. We wouldn't do it," says Mark.

In fact, the Dietsche's are making a commitment to the state to keep their farmland for many years to come. They're among a group of 15 farm families interested in creating an Agricultural Enterprise Zone. That's an area that would provide tax credits to property owners, if they sign a 15-year contract to keep the land as it is now: farmland.

"If you sign a 15-year contract, it goes with the land. So if the land is sold, that contract needs to be upheld by the new owner," Mark says.

The Dietsche family has decided to sign.

"There's no question that we enjoy the rural landscape out here," Mark says.

The creation of the Agriculture Enterprise Zone needs to be approved by every municipality within those 25,000 acres. Dunn County, Sand Creek and Otter Creek have approved it

They're waiting on the boards of the towns of Auburn, Cooks Valley, the village of Colfax, and Chippewa County to say yes.

Once that happens, farms within that area can sign that contract and receive tax credits.  

 

 

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