Agriculture Research site faces uncertain future

By KBJR News 1

January 22, 2014 Updated Jan 22, 2014 at 5:17 PM CST

Bayfield County, WI (NNCNOW.com) --- A piece of land just west of Ashland in Bayfield County faces an uncertain future.
The Agriculture and Energy Resource Center is a community supported group pushing to keep the land as an experimental growing site.

Bo Belanger is one of many startup farmers taking advantage of an experimental agriculture site in Bayfield County.

"We know that we can grow hops up here, we know we can grow the varieties we like. That's what that area allows someone like me who doesn't have the time to spend running up 10 acres right at a time." Said owner of the South Shore Brewery, Bo Belanger.

Belanger says he wants to produce all of his hops locally and develop special varieties for his brewery but his hops trials may come to an end when the lease for the AERC is over at the end of July.

"That seed money just needs to be nurtured a little bit longer so it actually can grow and provide the outcome everyone would like to see." Said Belanger.

The county is accepting new proposals on the land from any party and 40 Acres have already been rezoned commercial and at least one new business is in the process of being built.

"The Bayfield County Board's number one priority is jobs, job creation, and we are trying to create centers for new industry to create jobs for our residents in our community." Said Bayfield County Board Administrator, Mark Abeles-Allison.

Those involved with the agricultural site say that while commercial business may value the land for its proximity to the highway, it is just as valuable for agriculture.
They say the site is also central for local food distribution.

"This aggregation facility is here because it's centrally located, close to Ashland, so 20 area farms don't have to drive too far to get to this facility, so from here we can pack it up and ship it to Duluth." Said AERC Director, John Adams.

AERC members say their new proposal for a lease has been rejected with no reason given for the denial, which will likely affect this year's participation in the program.

"Personally I'd like to see them give the property more time to grow." Said Adams.

Bayfield County will be sending out requests for proposals next week and taking responses until the end of March.
The Board will then discuss and approve any new proposals with which they wish to move forward.

Bryce Henry
bhenry@kbjr.com