Local family farm corp turns to solar for diversification and regenerative strategy
This story is a collaborative effort between participating landowner, Doane Ltd, Elk Creek Solar’s Project Intern and UW-Stout Student, Ava McHugh, and the Elk Creek Solar Project.
Plans for a new solar project are sprouting in Dunn County thanks, in part, to the Doane family. The Elk Creek Solar Project is proposed on more than two-thousand acres of farmland owned by the Doanes and has just been submitted to the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin for approval to begin construction in the coming years.
Longtime residents of Dunn County, the Doane family runs an internationally recognized kidney bean corporation based in the town of Spring Brook and owns more than four thousand acres of multi-generational farmland throughout the surrounding area. The Doane family settled in Dunn Country over 150 years ago moving up from the southern part of the state by covered wagon in 1858. Since then, the family has grown and the farm has expanded from sustenance farm, to a dairy, to experimenting with other crops like cucumbers before specializing in kidney beans. Always the family carried a love and respect for the land and a desire for future generations to provide for themselves and their children with the bounty of the farm.
The Doanes commitment to sustainability and respect for their land was proven yet again when the family decided to lease property to Elk Creek Solar. The family has been farming the land in Spring Brook for 50 years or more, with continual growing cycles and intensive modern farming practices, the soil quality can often degrade with increased erosion and water runoff. The family saw leasing land for solar as an opportunity to let the land rest and regenerate its soil quality for future generations. The 7th generation members of the Doane Family are planning ahead for their own children, and prioritizing both healthy, productive land and financial stability. While Elk Creek Solar will provide financial support to the family farm operation during the Project’s operating life, one day they can pass this land on to the next generation without the worry of needing to recoup money from lost growing seasons.
“It’s our job to be good stewards of our land and this is being a good steward”, said Charles Wachsmuth the oldest of the 7th generation.
Provided the Project receives the appropriate approvals to move forward, a deep-rooted native seed mix will be planted underneath the solar panels that can restore nutrients to the soil, help reduce runoff, and draw in natural pollinators that also benefit surrounding agriculture. The limited use of fertilizer and minimal irrigation needed to grow these plants lets aquifers and organic matter recharge as the microsystem of the property regenerates.
“The Elk Creek Solar farm will not only benefit the area ecologically but will also bring a sizeable economic benefit to the local community.” stated Wachsmuth. Once the project enters construction, 200 to 300 jobs will be on-site during the construction process with three to five long-term, high-paying jobs during the solar farm’s operating life. Perhaps the most measurable benefit from Elk Creek Solar is the tax revenue generated by the project, totaling more than $43 million in new revenues for the Town of Spring Brook and Dunn County over the 35-year Project duration. The Elk Mound Area School District could also receive $60,000 annually, or $1.2 million total, through a Community Fund offered by the Project. Operating solar farms require little maintenance or municipal services, are essentially silent, and produce no emissions or discharge which will allow Elk Creek Solar, and the 2,000 acres of Doane Family land, to discretely become one of the largest tax-generating entities in Dunn County.
After the 35-year lease is complete, the solar farm can be easily decommissioned and the ground restored to its original condition, with rested and nutrient-rich soil that can be readily put back to farm production. By participating in the Elk Creek Solar Project, the Doanes have found a way to preserve their farmland for future generations while diversifying their income and helping their home community of Spring Brook and Dunn County all at the same time. The family can continue their mission of operating a sustainable farm while giving back to their valued customers and community through the project’s environmental and economic benefits.
This partnership with Elk Creek Solar will provide for a long-standing legacy and will have positive regional impact for decades to come.
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