According to a new study from American Farmland Trust, specialty crop growers in California are increasingly adopting beneficial management practices (BMPs); however the significant up-front costs and perceived loss of crop yield are limiting wider adoption. Over the course of eight months, American Farmland Trust polled specialty crop growers and held focus groups to uncover what would encourage them to try new conservation practices. The study, Encouraging California Specialty Crop Growers to Adopt Environmentally Beneficial Management Practices for Efficient Irrigation and Nutrient Management, highlights effective incentives and outlines recommendations for encouraging more widespread BMP adoption.
Read the press release about the specialty crops and adoption of BMPs.
Regional planning agencies throughout California are working on “sustainable community strategies” (SCSes) aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions by emphasizing more compact community development and alternatives to automobile travel. SCSes offer a new opportunity to conserve farmland by reducing sprawl. At the same time, a recent study from the University of California, Davis, found that urban areas produce at least 70 times more greenhouse gases per acre than agricultural operations. “This lends new urgency to saving farmland as a means of addressing climate change as well as maintaining food production,” explains Edward Thompson, Jr., American Farmland Trust’s California Director. Find out more about SCSes and American Farmland Trust’s goal of reducing the rate of farmland conversion rate by 50 percent.
Farmland Trust is a co-sponsor of California Bill AB 823, which would preserve an acre of farmland for every acre that is developed. Introduced
by Chair of the Assembly Agriculture Committee Susan Talamantes Eggman,
the legislation would require agencies and developers of farmland to
for the acquisition of conservation easements. It would also enable them
avoid lengthy analysis of agricultural impacts and lawsuits based on
impacts by saving 2 acres of farmland for every 1 they develop. "This
bill should benefit both agriculture and developers by clarifying the
farmland mitigation and creating a new source of funding for farmland
preservation," said American Farmland Trust California Director Edward
Thompson, Jr. "California continues to lose 30,000 acres of farmland a
year, and it is time to try something different to stem this loss."
co-sponsors of the bill are the California Climate & Agriculture Network
and the Community Alliance with Family Farmers. Download a fact sheet, read the proposed bill and chart its progress at calclimateag.org.
A new report from American Farmland Trust's California office, titled Saving Farmland, Growing Cities: A Framework for Implementing Effective Farmland Conservation Policies in the San Joaquin Valley [PDF], analyzes current efforts by Valley communities to preserve farmland and makes concrete recommendations to help stop farm and ranch land in the Valley from becoming housing developments and mini-malls.
Learn more about the Saving Farmland, Growing Cities report.
All farmers and ranchers know preparing for the year ahead starts with looking back at the bright spots and challenges from the seasons before.
At AFT, we’re proud that in 2012 we rallied farmers and citizens alike to advocate on behalf of protecting farm and ranch land. Our innovative projects helped family farmers pioneer sound farming practices, which help to preserve our land and water resources. We also laid the groundwork to keep farmers on the land by providing tools and resources that allow them to thrive.
We’re sharing accomplishments and inspiration from 2012 in the words of our expert staff.
AFT helped launch a 'greenprint,' which is intended to be a set of strategies for the conservation and sustainable management of land and water resources, in the San Joaquin Valley. This is California’s most important agricultural region, the southern half of the Central Valley. It’s like a fruit forest 250 miles long by 50 miles wide. In the spring when all the fruit, the almonds and the peaches and the plums everything are in bloom, it’s just astonishing. But it’s under siege from urban growth with a population of four million expected to reach nine million by mid-century.
Read more from California Director Ed Thompson, Jr.
The Stanislaus County Local Agency Formation Commission
(LAFCO) recently voted 4-1 to adopt a policy that may help reduce farmland loss
along the urban edge. The policy requires cities to prepare farmland conservation
plans before they annex more land or expand their spheres of influence. This is
believed to be the first such LAFCO policy in the San Joaquin Valley. Existing
spheres of influence– areas around cities officially designated for growth –
encompass 32,000 acres (50 square miles) of land in Stanislaus County, much of
it highly productive farmland. The LAFCO policy has provoked wider debate over
farmland conservation in Stanislaus County, which produced $3 billion worth of
food and other agricultural products last year. Find
out more about the groundbreaking LAFCO policy.
County farmer was recently honored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as
the Sustainable Agriculture Champion. Russ Lester was recognized for his
leadership in taking a whole-systems approach at Dixon Ridge Farm in Winters,
Calif., including a biogas-powered generator fueled by walnut shells. “Russ’s
innovative and thoughtful approach to agriculture is a model for how production
and stewardship fit hand-in-hand,” says Ed Thompson, California Director at
American Farmland Trust. Lester also serves on American Farmland Trust’s California Agricultural
The San Joaquin Valley of
California is among the most productive agricultural regions in the world, yet
for decades it has been under intense pressure from residential development as
cities throughout the valley have sprawled out onto prime farmland. Recently, however, the City of Fresno shifted
toward realizing smart growth principles in its General Plan Update. Most important of these policy changes has
been the city’s decision not to expand its sphere of influence and urban growth
boundary. “It was an unprecedented
decision that American Farmland Trust was glad to participate in and witness,”
explained Daniel O’Connell, American Farmland Trust's San Joaquin Valley Representative. “Everyone from high-profile agricultural
leaders to health, religious and minority groups turned out by the hundreds at
city council meetings to demand a change in land use policy.” Read more about this remarkable policy
victory—“Fresno’s General Plan Update – A Groundswell Model?”—on the Groundswell
San Joaquin Valley web site, an
online hub designed to encourage informed citizen participation in land use
issues in the Valley.
In May, thought leaders and stakeholders representing California agriculture shared perspectives on the proposed high-speed rail project with the California State Board of Food and Agriculture. Edward Thompson, Jr., California Director at American Farmland Trust, warned that the project could significantly increase farmland loss in the San Joaquin Valley unless local land use policies encourage more efficient development. Most of the land lost will be the prime farmland that surrounds the cities where the high-speed train will stop. Thompson also called for the High Speed Rail Authority and local governments in the Valley to mitigate the loss of farmland and compensate farmers for the losses they will suffer from the taking of their property and disruption of their operations.
More than 200 leaders from business, agriculture, government and nonprofits who recently gathered in Fresno to discuss strategies for improving the economy of the San Joaquin Valley, ranked farmland preservation among the highest priorities for state action. The findings of the meeting, which focused on “Building Prosperity for the Valley’s Ag Value Chain,” will be brought to a state-wide summit on economic prosperity this May. Participating in the conference was American Farmland Trust’s California Director Ed Thompson, Jr., who said, “This is further evidence that the San Joaquin Valley is beginning to recognize that it's agricultural land is not unlimited and that affirmative steps must be taken to conserve it.”
Since 2008, California’s agricultural leaders, environmentalists and representatives of other groups established California Agricultural Vision to set a strategic course for a healthy population, a clean environment, and a profitable agricultural industry. A new report, From Strategies to Results, highlights current progress by identifying more than 40 initiatives in 12 strategic categories that are currently underway. The report charts many successes, but there is much work that remains to achieve the vision of California’s agricultural leadership and your input will help. Which strategy do you believe should be the top priority? Which initiatives do you find the most promising? Please take a moment and share your thoughts.
American Farmland Trust is taking the next step in promoting a more robust regional agriculture and food system in the San Francisco Bay Area. Thanks to the support of the California Coastal Conservancy, we will be conducting a feasibility study and developing a business plan for a regional agricultural economic development finance corporation as part of our on-going Bay Area Agricultural Sustainability Initiative. This would attract capital and strategically invest it to promote increased supply of and demand for locally-produced food. "The Coastal Conservancy recognizes the significant contributions that Bay Area farms and ranches make to our quality of life and economic vitality,” remarked Amy Hutzel, Program Manager for the San Francisco Bay Area Coastal Conservancy. "We are pleased to provide this grant to the American Farmland Trust to increase economic investment in our working lands.” Our partners in the project are the Greenbelt Alliance and Sustainable Agriculture Education.
Stanislaus County mayors have proposed urban growth boundaries for 2050. This proposal appears to be a first for cities in the San Joaquin Valley, intended to protect farmland that surrounds most of the cities in the Valley. While the mayors’intentions are praiseworthy, it remains to be seen if the recommended boundaries will result in conserving the county’s best farmland. Using data from the U.C. Davis Center for the Environment, American Farmland Trust California Director Ed Thompson found that one quarter of all the prime farmland in Stanislaus County falls within the proposed boundaries. Moreover, the boundaries outlined by some cities include seven to nine times as much land as will be needed for anticipated population growth. This precedent-setting process is now instigating a county-wide dialogue on farmland protection among policy makers and the general public. Still, as Thompson explained to The Modesto Bee, Stanislaus County continues to lead the way in promoting land use policies to save farmland in the Valley. Though not perfect, he explains, “they’re talking about the right things.”
California agricultural leaders are making progress on a broad front to address major challenges to the industry’s sustainability, guided by goals established by the State Board of Food and Agriculture. And they are doing so by collaborating with environmentalists and representatives of other groups with an interest in the food system. These are the conclusions of a new report by American Farmland Trust (AFT) on the progress of California Agricultural Vision.
Read the new From Strategies to Results report and share your thoughts on AgVision strategies.
We are pleased to welcome Daniel O’Connell to our California Field Office staff as San Joaquin Valley Field Representative. O’Connell comes to us from the Sequoia Riverlands Trust, where he launched that organization’s farmland conservation program. He brings a broad base of experience in working with farmers, most recently completing the first agricultural conservation easements with farmers in the four-county region of the southern San Joaquin Valley. A native of
Southern California, O’Connell is based in Tulare County. Please join us in welcoming Daniel!
|Photo: Amy Valente, San Joaquin County Farm Bureau
In 2002, the California state legislature passed a law establishing priority goals for
land use planning: promote urban infill and efficient development while protecting environmental and agricultural resources. Now the administration of Governor Jerry Brown has signaled its intention to make those goals a reality. In a recently released strategic plan, the California Strategic Growth Council, a cabinet-level body charged with advancing state laws related to land use, has highlighted AB 857 as one of its priorities for action. American Farmland Trust applauds the council for focusing on the implementation of this law and—in particular—its emphasis on preserving California’s most productive farmland from urban sprawl.
Read more about implementation of the land use plan.
Since opening our office in California nearly three decades ago, we’ve been working to advance our mission: protecting farmland, promoting environmentally friendly farming practices, and keeping farms thriving. It’s a critical mission. California’s farmland leads the nation in agricultural production, but farms and farmland here face pressing challenges in the most populous and fastest growing state.
In 2011, we worked with partners throughout the state to make significant progress on each of our groundbreaking initiatives to address the challenges facing farms in California. Read more about our accomplishments in California from the past year and see a snapshot of what lies ahead.
After nearly a decade planning for a high-speed “bullet” train from Southern California to the San Francisco Bay Area, serious questions are being raised, including the threat to the incomparable and irreplaceable farmland in the San Joaquin Valley. The decision on a right-of-way and the release of an environmental impact report on the project shed light on how, if executed as planned, the resulting loss to California agriculture could be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Among the other impacts of the project, the right-of-way will take thousands of acres of prime farmland out of production and hundreds of farms will be cut in half by train tracks protected by high fences that that have been likened to the Great Wall of China.
Approximately 40 percent of the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area is comprised of farmland, but in the last 18 years alone, 18 percent of the most fertile cropland has been lost. The Bay Area Agricultural Sustainability Project—a collaboration between American Farmland Trust, Greenbelt Alliance and Sustainable Agriculture Education—released these and other findings about the region’s farm and ranch land earlier this spring. The group will continue to evaluate agricultural viability and engage the community as they work to design an economic development strategy to strengthen the agricultural and environmental future of the Bay Area.
California has committed to producing 33 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020. Windmills already dot the state with more to come, and dozens of large-scale solar energy facilities are also being planned. Because many deserts and other uncultivated lands harbor endangered or threatened species, they are not considered appropriate for solar facilities. The challenge then is avoiding prime farmland in favor of land that is less productive. Legislation sponsored by Senator Lois Wolk, SB 618, would establish criteria for siting large-scale solar and other renewable energy facilities on farmland. We have helped shape this legislation and are working with the Brown Administration to assure that California can meet its future food and renewable energy needs.
A new report calls for a fundamental change in the way scarce water resources are allocated in California. Because of the state’s semi-arid climate, agriculture and cities are almost entirely dependent on developed, rather than natural, water supplies. Tension between environmental interests and agriculture, which uses 70 percent of the state’s water, has existed for decades.
Now, however, an expert panel convened by the Public Policy Institute of California is recommending a new approach. “In California’s highly altered environment,” their report, Managing California’s Water: From Conflict to Reconciliation, explains, “reconciliation—which acknowledges the continued presence of human land and water uses—is likely to have more promise than restoration that seeks to return ecosystems to an approximation of their native states.” We applaud this pragmatic step forward.
The San Joaquin Valley is California’s leading agricultural area, responsible for more than $20 billion in annual food production. It is also one of the fastest-growing areas in the country, losing six square miles of farmland a year to urban development. Until 2004, there was no regional planning for growth in the valley; just eight counties and more than 30 cities going their own way. Today, however, there are at least three separate regional planning exercises taking place, each with its own objectives, timetable and leadership. What will emerge from all this planning is a legitimate question, and the fate of the region’s irreplaceable, world-class farmland hangs in the balance.
The San Francisco Bay Area is one of the nation’s leaders in local food. Sustaining Our Bounty: An Assessment of the State of Farming and Ranching in the San Francisco Bay Area [PDF], summarizes the challenges and opportunities of the region’s $1.9 billion a year agriculture industry, calling for new strategies to support its future prosperity. A key may be to enable farmers and ranchers to capitalize on the growing demand for locally-produced food from the region’s seven million consumers. In March 2011, along with our partners, Greenbelt Alliance and Sustainable Agriculture Education, we convened a regional conference to design strategies to sustain Bay Area agriculture.
Just eighteen days before his inauguration, Governor-elect Jerry Brown put in an appearance at a December 16th event marking the release of an American Farmland Trust report to the State Board of Food & Agriculture. The report, entitled California Agricultural Vision: Strategies for Sustainability, outlines a plan to assure the continued viability of the state’s $36 billion-a-year agriculture industry. Taking time from working on the state budget, Brown spoke to a gathering of leaders representing agriculture, environment, farm labor, hunger and nutrition and local food systems, acknowledging that farmers and ranchers “face challenges with water, soil, workers, pesticides, air… and politicians.” The Governor-elect observed, “California is in for some good times after a certain period of difficult times,” a statement about the overall state economy that could just as easily apply to agriculture in the nation’s leading farm state.
The California Roundtable on Agriculture and the Environment (CRAE) has released a new report called “Permitting Restoration” that details regulatory obstacles that deter or prevent farmers and ranchers from improving fish and wildlife habitat. It underscores the increasingly burden that government regulation places on many aspects of agriculture, and highlights the need to avoid regulatory duplication, delay and other administrative problems – without compromising environmental quality.
On September 23, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) adopted targets for greenhouse gas reduction that must be met through changes in land use planning and development that will help save farmland. To meet the targets, local communities must reduce auto travel, a major source of greenhouse gases, by making it possible for people to walk, bicycle or take convenient public transportation between their homes, schools, shopping and places of work. One of the best ways to accomplish this is by harmoniously mixing these uses and consuming less land per person than traditional “urban sprawl.”
The initial recommendations of a blue ribbon committee convened by American Farmland Trust (AFT) to address the major challenges facing California agriculture were accepted in late June by the State Board of Food & Agriculture, the principal agriculture advisor to Governor Schwarzenegger. Five challenges are covered by the recommendations.
A new report by the planning firm Calthorpe Associates highlights the vivid contrast between the impacts of conventional urban sprawl and smart growth on California’s land, water, energy, climate and the economy. Charting Our Future documents the initial application of a new computer modeling tool called Rapid Fire to examine four different future growth scenarios.
The first year of AFT’s BMP Challenge field trials in the San Joaquin Valley of California have proved to be a success, with no reported loss of crop yields due to the use of new beneficial management practices (BMPs) that reduce water pollution and climate-altering greenhouse gas emissions. Six growers of forage corn altered their cultivation and fertilization routines on 600 acres under agreements that promised to indemnify them for any economic loss they might suffer because of reduced yields
At the invitation of the California Senate Local Government Committee, chaired by Sen. Dave Cox (1st Dist.), AFT California Director Edward Thompson, Jr., testified that the Williamson Act needs significant improvement. The Williamson Act is the backbone of the state’s farmland preservation effort, offering farmers and ranchers lower property taxes in exchange for agreeing not to develop their land for at least 10 years. Governor Schwarzenegger’s most recent budget proposal would cut virtuallyall funding for the program, forcing local governments to cancel agreements with landowners and leaving tens of thousands of acres of farm and ranch land vulnerable to development.
American Farmland Trust and two local organizations have launched an effort to conserve farmland and encourage those who farm it to produce more food for local markets in the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area region. The project is an outgrowth of an Urban Rural Roundtable that AFT helped lead, which recommended a number of actions to increase both the production and consumption of locally-grown food in order to promote greater economic opportunity for farmers, regional food security, improved public health and environmental quality.
AFT has released a new Guide to Beneficial Management Practices for California Specialty Crops that outlines farming practices that growers can use to reduce pollution, conserve water and energy, improve wildlife habitat and moderate climate change. The interactive on-line guide matches California's leading specialty crops with specific farming practices, their environmental benefits and sources of funding to pay for their use.
Much has been made of the potential for U.S. agriculture to help reduce climate-altering greenhouse gases by modifying farming practices. Often overlooked, however, is the role that saving farmland from urban sprawl can play in reducing the risks of climate change. Quite simply, one of the most important strategies for greenhouse gas reduction – promoting more compact, walkable, transit-oriented urban development – is also the key to reducing the loss of farmland, especially in California.
A policy council comprised of 16 local elected officials from eight San Joaquin Valley counties endorsed a “blueprint” for future development in California’s premier agricultural region that will save 118,000 acres of farmland by 2050, a 36% reduction compared with the way land is now being developed. While encouraging, the council’s decision rejected an even more ambitious growth scenario we endorsed by that would have cut farmland loss in half while also reducing both energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by 20%.
Paving Paradise: Study Details Statewide & Local Farmland Losses
One out of every six acres developed in California since the Gold Rush was paved over between 1990 and 2004. So concludes our report, Paving Paradise: A New Perspective on California Farmland Conversion. In all, more than a half million acres were urbanized during this period, almost two-thirds of it agricultural land. Among AFT’s other findings: More than 60% of the land developed in the San Joaquin Valley, which accounts for half of California’s agricultural production, was farmland of the very best quality. Statewide, development is consuming an acre of land for every 9.4 people – imagine them spread out over a football field.
If sprawling development patterns continue, another 2 million acres of California land will be paved over by 2050. If, however, the state as a whole develops land as efficiently as Sacramento County or the Bay Area did in recent years, a million acres of California’s irreplaceable farmland could be saved.
P.O. Box 73856
Davis, CA 95617