The Future is Now: Central Valley Farmland at the Tipping Point?
Executive Summary
Resumen Ejecutivo
Current Trends
     Population Growth
  Farmland Use and Development
  Quality of Farmland Developed
  Efficiency of Urban Development
  "Ranchettes" & Other Rural Development
  Agricultural Trends
Local Plans & Performance
  Analytical Method
  Sutter County
  Sacramento County
  Yolo County
  San Joaquin County
  Stanislaus County
  Merced County
  Madera County
  Fresno County
  Tulare County
  Kings County
  Kern County
Where is The Valley Heading?
Time for Change
  Ideas for Change
What You Can Do
  Rank Your County
  Local Official Contacts
  Local Organizations
  Support AFT
Methodology & Background Data
About AFT in California

Current Trends in the Central Valley

Photo by Ed Williams, CDFADuring the decade of the 1990s, dramatic changes took place in the Central Valley. This initial chapter of our report documents the basic changes in population, land use and agriculture. To understand these trends, one has to put them in the perspective of why they are important.

Population growth is the main driver of land use change in California. The state is now growing by approproximately the population of the city of San Francisco every year, the highest rate in the country, and new residents have to live and work somewhere.

But population growth alone does not determine changes in land use. Where and how the new people are accommodated makes a huge difference. In California, most of the population lives in cities. But in the Central Valley, the cities are located in the midst of the most fertile farmland (which also tends to have the least expensive, most reliable water supplies). That's because they originated as, and for the most part remain, market centers for agriculture. [1] The consequence is that high quality farmland is disproportionately affected by city-oriented growth and development.

Photo by Ed Williams, CDFADevelopment of the best farmland, rather than less productive land, places a premium on how efficiently the population is accommodated in terms of how much land is consumed for each person. This is partly a function of personal preferences that shape the market for housing and commercial development. For example, the desire for a "place in the country" is responsible for increasing "ranchette" development. But the form that development ultimately takes is determined by local land use policies, notably county and city general plans, which are the legal expression of community intentions about how they want to look and function.

Growth impacts many things: traffic, air quality, public services, taxes and the attractiveness of communities as places to live. In this report, we focus on the impact of growth trends on agriculture. Availability of land is not the only thing that influences farming and ranching. Myriad forces, from weather to global markets, affect the economic viability of the industry. But, ultimately, land is the one thing agriculture -- literally "tilling of the fields" in Latin -- cannot do without.

This chapter of the report looks at each of the highlighted trends.
(We suggest that you begin with Population.) General plans and their influence on these trends are covered in the section on Local Plans & Performance.


[1] Most of California's major urban areas were also once surrounded by productive farmland, an object lesson that should not be lost on those contemplating the future of the Central Valley. For example, Los Angeles County, with its expansive citrus groves, was until around 1960 the leading agricultural producer in the United States. (A distinction that now see-saws back and forth between Fresno and Tulare Counties in the Central Valley.) The region of the Bay Area now called "Silicon Valley" was until even more recently a beautiful landscape of peach, plum and cherry orchards known as the "Valley of Heart's Delight." It has taken only a generation -- roughly the same amount of time covered by the projections in this report -- for them to be transformed into landscapes that would be unrecognizable to those living and farming there in the 1950s. Read excerpts from Crop Acreage Trends for Los Angeles County and Southern California, Published by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, June, 1955

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