City leases land for farming

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Austin Montgomery/Beloit Daily News The 22-acre property on Burton Street will now be leased by Walsh Farms, of Beloit, after a Janesville-based farm decided to forgo its next lease. The city currently owns six other vacant properties that have been turned to farm land.

BELOIT — Vacant land on Burton Street will continue to be used to raise crops, after the Beloit City Council approved leasing it for farming purposes.

Walsh Family Farm, of Beloit, will take on the short-term lease of the 23-acre property near the intersection of Fir Drive and Burton Street.

The city currently leases six other properties used by area farmers, with over 374-acres of tillable land. The Burton Street site is one of the smaller properties on the city’s registry, with the largest property available to be farmed being located in the Gateway Business Park of over 171-acres, according to city data.

All two-year leases expire at the end of 2018. The Burton Street property will be leased to Walsh Farms for a total of $4,081, according to city planning documents.

Walsh Family Farm is a fifth generation farm, operating over 1,600 acres in Wisconsin and Illinois. The family also raises Angus cattle, as well as Hampshire and Yorkshire show pigs.

“The city has been a great partner of our family’s farm over the last 20-plus years, and we appreciate partnering with quality people who have always been honest and transparent with our family,” said Walsh Family Farm owner Aaron H. Walsh. “The majority of the city’s farm land abuts land our family currently owns and operates. From a logistical standpoint, renting from the city makes sense for our family.”

The city secured renewal agreements for the six other properties, and negotiated the Burton Street deal with Walsh Farms after Rebout Farms in Janesville did not renew a lease agreement.

The move to lease vacant land is common practice by the city, according to Economic Development Director Andrew Janke.

“We could either retain it and let the properties grow grass that we have to maintain, or we could rent the land to farmers and get rental income,” Janke said. “It just makes sense.”

Welsh Farms will use the land to plant and harvest crops like corn and soy beans. The move to farm vacant land also helps boost sustainability in the city, Janke noted.

“Not only does this provide income, but it also provides farmers in our area the chance to work in the city and produce food and products that will be put back into our community or in the state,” Janke said. “It’s a logical and sustainable way to maintain our city resources.”

The majority of the Walsh’s strategic planning and preparation started last summer, and continued throughout the winter in preparation for the spring season. All changes to the family’s business model is worked out in the winter, ahead of the busy planting season.

For raising livestock, the family hosts a live auction at the end of March, where they sell eight to 12-week old pigs to 4-H to be raised and shown by 4-H participants.

“This is extremely fulfilling for my father Tom, because many of these children use the proceeds from selling their animals to help pay for their college educations,” Walsh said.

The renegotiations set for 2018 were prompted by low commodity price rates, Janke said.

“We thought we had some really good rates with our farmers,” he added.

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