State funding will help local farm business protect crops
The Wildlife Damage program works to do what they can to prevent crop damage on commercial areas. Eric and Rebecca Zuleger’s property in the town of Westboro is no exception.
The Zulegers own We Grow, a community supported agriculture farm that sells produce to local customers and the deer invading their farm has become a serious problem in recent years.
Seth Zesiger, Wildlife Specialist, proposed to the Land Conservation board on Tuesday morning a project of establishing a permanent wildlife fence around the commercial vegetable garden on Zuleger’s property to keep the deer from damaging their crops.
“The Zulegers have tried a number of different techniques to keep the animals out, and nothing has helped. With the added expense of materials, time, and manpower to maintain, they will come out ahead in the end. This would be a good investment not only for their business but for the county as well,” Zesiger said.
The projected cost for this project would be $30,000. Zesiger assured the board that this money comes from the county and the county is reimbursed through the state. The breakdown of the county/state is 75% and Zuleger’s are responsible for 25% of that cost. He said permanent fencing would be the best solution for them.
“This is a $30,000 project that would increase the value of the farm. What would happen if their business goes under?” asked committee member Joe Tomandl.
“This is a 15 year contract and if the business goes under, this contract is connected to the deed which would go to the next property owner,” Zesiger said.
Zuleger’s hope to expand their field into a garden in the next few years to expand their fresh produce business. To feed their livestock, they do plant cover crops.
“What is Zuleger’s commitment?” asked committee member Catherine Lemke.
Zesiger explained that the percentage is on a 75%/25% cost share basis. They are not constructing the fencing themselves. Zuleger’s have tried various other types of fencing and nothing has worked to keep the deer out.
“I talked to Eric [Zuleger] recently and he said he had bought some liquid fencing out of his own pocket to try, and that didn’t do anything. They are not looking for a handout from the state or the county, they have put a lot of effort into figuring out how to make the other options work. They’ve put up their own fencing, and have tried other deterrents and nothing has worked they have invested a lot of time and energy into this,” Zesiger said.
“What is the life expectancy of the fencing?” chairman Ray Soper asked?
Zesiger explained that there is a 15-year life expectancy but he had been out to another parcel of land a week ago and the same fencing had surpassed the 15-year life expectancy by a decade. The fence was still in great shape especially with the treated wooden posts on the corners. Some of the ground had heaved up around the posts, but there was no rotting at the base.
After discussing all the concerns that the board had for this project with Zesiger, the board voted to approve the project.
The operating budget for the Land Conservation Department is budgeted at an estimated $149,608. Compared to the 2022 budget, which was $149,208, there was a $400 difference. Soper said “Is there a way to make the difference zero so we have a similar budget from last year?”
To fix this issue, Brent Tesmer agreed to change the Field Work/Travel Expenses amount from $3,500 to $3,100, therefore making the budget the same as the previous year.
In other business:
_ Crop damage has increased significantly due to deer. Zesiger said “The way to control that is to issue “crop damage” tags to the landowners and after the damage assessment the landowners would be eligible for damage compensation.”
_ Hannah Butkiewicz of Golden Sands asked for funding for a multi-year project to remove buckthorn from a preserve of 35 acres. Due to the unknown amount of how much money they are asking for, the board could not support the funding of this project. There was a discussion to possibly use Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) funds to fund this project in the future but now, there are no funds available at this time.