Current Trends in the Central Valley
Quality of the Farmland being Developed
The best, most fertile, well-watered farmland in the Central Valley is being developed faster than less productive land. Only about 40 percent of the land  in the 11 Valley counties we studied is classified as prime or unique farmland, or farmland of statewide importance -- which for simplicity we will call "high quality farmland" throughout this report. [Read about farmland classification] Yet, 53 percent of the land developed in the same counties during the 1990s had been classified as high quality farmland.
Of particular concern is that in five counties -- including San Joaquin and Stanislaus, two of the Valley's fastest growing counties that are also among the top 10 agricultural producers in the United States -- more than 75 percent of all the land developed was high quality land.
These figures almost certainly underestimate how disproportionately development was sited on high quality farmland. Another 35 percent of the acreage developed during the 1990s had been classified by the Farmland Mapping & Monitoring Program (FMMP) as "other" land. This category includes some land that was formerly high quality farmland, but was reclassified as "other" land when it was taken out of irrigated agricultural production in anticipation of its eventual development.
The reason for the disproportionate development of high quality land in the Valley seems fairly straightforward. Most development is occurring immediately around the Valley's cities. (The map below shows a portion of San Joaquin County that illustrates this pattern. Development in the 1990s is yellow, high quality farmland is green.) Contiguous, urban-edge development is generally considered good urban planning practice. It usually poses fewer problems for agriculture than scattered suburban sprawl. But in the Central Valley almost all the cities are located in the midst of the highest quality farmland along the Highway 99 corridor. So, if city centered growth continues — right now, 60 percent of the land within the spheres of influence of Valley cities is high quality farmland — it will challenge Valley communities as never before to develop the land as efficiently as possible.
Development in the Valley is occurring mostly
around cities on high quality farmland.
[Click here to view interactive maps of other parts of the Central Valley]
[Go to the next section, Efficiency of Urban Development]
 This includes only land mapped by the Department of Conservation Farmland Mapping & Monitoring Program, which omits mountains, deserts and other areas of little or no agricultural value. See Land Use Table .
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