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Journal/Book Title

Madison: Dept. of Agricultural and AppliedEconomics

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Relatively low and volatile agricultural commodity prices have placed increasing pressure on the state’s farm sector in the 1990s. At the same time, an unusually robust non-farm economy has generated significant demand for rural housing and recreational land development. The result has been a dramatic acceleration in the rate of farmland conversion to non- farm uses over the last 15 years. Non-farm growth pressures have affected many other aspects of Wisconsin’s urban and rural landscape as well. To help communities grapple with these new challenges, the state legislature passed a new “Smart Growth” law in the fall of 1999 (1999 Wisconsin Act 9). This law encourages municipalities to write and use new “comprehensive plans” to guide all their land use decisions by January 1, 2010. Under the statute, one required element of comprehensive plans will be an assessment of agricultural resources and a plan for their future use or protection. This article assesses the significance of the new Smart Growth legislation for agriculture in Wisconsin. I begin with an overview of trends in farmland loss in the state. Because agricultural planning had a long history in the state even before the Smart Growth law, I examine some of the political and economic challenges of writing and implementing effective land use plans in rural communities. I conclude with a detailed consideration of what the Smart Growth law will require concerning agriculture, and explore some of the ways in which it could impact farms, the general agribusiness economy, land markets, and rural communities in Wisconsin.