Report: Amount of Wisconsin Land Being Farmed Declines in 2021

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service found the total amount of land in Wisconsin farms was 14.2 million acres last year. That’s 100,000 acres fewer, or a less than 1 percent decline, from 2020, but it’s the first decrease in the amount of land in farms since 2017.

Heather Schlesser is an agriculture educator for the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Division of Extension in Marathon County. She said the state has seen many producers transition out of dairy farming, which requires a lot of land for growing feed.

“They were transitioning out of dairy, making that decision to retire because they’re getting older. Or maybe they’re still younger, but they’re switching into beef production,” Schlesser said. “You can only do that for so long before you’re like, ‘You know what, I really don’t need this land. I don’t want to deal with the renters anymore. There’s no one new coming on the farm.’ And then they’re just deciding to sell it off.”

Some land is sold to other producers, especially the largest farms in the state. The amount of land farmed by producers earning at or above $500,000 annually grew by almost 4 percent from 2020 to 2021.

But for farms around urban areas, land is often sold to individuals looking to transition out of city living or looking for recreational land for hunting.

“They want to be close enough to that downtown center so that they don’t have a long commute to get to work, where they’re still close to the cultural centers and everything that town has to offer,” she said. “But they want that country feel.”

Schlesser said urban sprawl is not a new trend for the state, but it may have been more of a factor in 2020 after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.