On August 2, American Farmland Trust and the Napa County Farm Bureau co-sponsored a conference that brought together more than 200 state and local leaders to chart a new course for farmland conservation in California. It was the first statewide farmland conservation conference in three decades. Held in the Napa Valley wine country, it showcased outstanding local farmland conservation programs throughout the state. It also highlighted innovative regional planning efforts and explored ways in which the state policies could be better administered or changed to promote farmland conservation.
“What we learned,” said AFT California Director Edward Thompson, Jr., “is that some local communities have successfully demonstrated how to reduce the development of, and permanently protect farmland. We know how to do it. But in many places the political will is lacking and state policies are ‘muddied’ at best when it comes to helping more communities succeed. This needs to change.”
In her keynote address to the conference, California Secretary of Food & Agriculture Karen Ross emphasized the importance of farmland to California and everyone in this country and around the world who depends on it. She said that to be more successful at conserving this resource, we need to create and mobilize a “durable coalition,” broadly representative of the state’s diverse population.
Among the ideas for improving state policy proposed by the more than 30 speakers are:
- Improve and refund Williamson Act tax incentives for farmland conservation
- Dedicate cap-and-trade auction revenue to the conservation of farmland that emits 70 times less greenhouse gases than urban land
- Have Local Area Formation Commissions (LAFCO) to shrink excessively large spheres of influence where development is allowed
- Improve state guidelines on local general (comprehensive) plans and agricultural impact review under the California Environmental Quality Act
- Implement the state planning priorities of AB 857 (infill, efficient development and open space conservation) through the Environmental Goals & Policy Report
- Adopt a statewide requirement that farmland conversion be mitigated by preserving an acre for each acre developed
- Assess and mitigate the cumulative impact of state-sponsored and –sanctioned megaprojects like high speed rail, industrial scale solar and wind projects, and expanding oil and gas development
In the coming weeks and months, AFT intends to work with other organizations and leaders to mount a campaign to promote these and other changes in state policy. We also intend to encourage more local communities, especially in the San Joaquin Valley, to adopt farmland conservation programs like those featured at the conference. Case studies and Powerpoint presentations on these programs can be downloaded here.
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Davis, CA 95617