AFT Helps Protect Nation’s Leading Food-Producing State - American Farmland Trust

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AFT Helps Protect Nation’s Leading Food-Producing State

It’s hard to overstate the importance of California’s agricultural contributions to our food system. The state produces more than a third of the vegetables and nearly two-thirds of the fruits and nuts eaten in the United States.

But the $50+ billion farm economy faces significant pressures from a growing population, water scarcity, natural disasters, regulations, and more. Protecting the nation’s cornucopia is a top priority at AFT. In fact, our first field office was opened in California.

To protect the most at-risk agricultural resources, AFT is applying a multipronged approach by combining policy, research, and on-the-ground support in the Golden State.

Farmland Protection as Climate Solution

For the last several decades, AFT has helped lead efforts to create California farmland protection programs, and some have become national models for other states.

Several years ago, our Greener Fields research demonstrated that farmland protection is a vitally important climate solution for reaching the state’s goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050.

AFT’s research showed:

An acre of California farmland produces 58-70% less greenhouse gases than an acre of urban land.

If the annual loss of farmland to urban development in California was reduced by 75% by 2050, that could reduce greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to removing 1.9 million cars from the road annually.

Sustainable Agricultural Lands Conservation Program: In 2015, California launched the trailblazing Sustainable Agricultural Lands Conservation Program (SALCP), which is the first program in the country that invests in farmland conservation for its climate benefits.

AFT’s advocacy and Greener Fields research helped lead to the creation of SALCP at the California Department of Conservation. SALCP applies Cap-and-Trade proceeds to fund permanent agricultural easements on agricultural lands at risk of development, and funds projects to improve local farmland conservation policy and program development.

Since its inception, SALCP has funded 144 agricultural conservation easements with 142,000 acres protected across California.

California Farmland Conservancy Program: In 1993, AFT sponsored legislation that helped to create the California Farmland Conservancy Program (CFCP), a major achievement for conservation in the state. The statewide grant program supports local efforts to establish agricultural conservation easements and land improvement projects for protecting agricultural resources and encouraging sustainable growing methods.

Over the years, CFCP has completed more than 184 agricultural conservation easements on nearly 60,000 acres of strategically important farmland.

AFT is currently sponsoring AB 2964 (Committee on Agriculture), a bill which would modernize the CFCP by removing barriers to access for farmers and ranchers. Our team has ongoing efforts to secure a stable and robust funding source for the CFCP, as well as maintain continuous appropriations for the SALCP.

To ensure these programs’ ongoing progress, a reliable source of funding for these farmland protection programs is essential in the nation’s number-one agricultural state.

Securing long-term farmland protection funding in the state is particularly critical when you consider AFT’s Farms Under Threat research:

California scored among the nation’s highest for policies and programs that protect land from development, promote farm viability, and facilitate the transfer of agricultural land. However, the state invested only .11 per capita/year. In contrast, Delaware earned the top score among states for average funds spent per capita/year at $6.03.

Research Identifies Challenges and Opportunities

According to AFT Farms Under Threat: The State of the States research, California’s best agricultural land was 202% more likely to be converted to other uses than the rest of California’s land.

rangeland in san joaquin valley

Earlier, in 2018, AFT released the comprehensive San Joaquin Valley Land and Water Strategy regarding  California’s top food producing region. AFT and the Conservation Biology Institute (CBI) assessed the capacity and resilience of agricultural production in the valley.

This work was completed by analyzing the current distribution of quality agricultural land and water resources as well as the future impacts these resources face.

The San Joaquin Valley Land and Water Strategy revealed:

Only four in 10 acres of the Valley’s agricultural land is determined to be of the highest quality.

Only 9% of the Valley’s irrigated farmland is high quality and experiencing low-water stress.

As many as 323,000 acres are projected to be converted into low-density urban and rural residential uses by 2050.

An estimated 55% of the Valley’s high-quality farmland has a high risk of development.

On-the-Ground Action Protects At-Risk Farmland

Over the next five years, AFT California is applying the next phase of the San Joaquin Land and Water Strategy to accelerate California farmland protection and deliver on-the-ground technical resources for planners, land trusts, and other professionals.

AFT is partnering with the California Farmland Trust and others to protect 10 at-risk and highly productive farms with high groundwater recharge potential. State funding has already been approved to protect two San Joaquin Valley farms:

  • Lost Wagon Wheel Ranch — This 1,099-acre family farm between Merced and Chowchilla grows wheat, cotton, almonds, and corn for Kraft Foods’ Corn Nuts. The farm has a wildlife retreat that attracts Swainson’s Hawks, red-tailed hawks, owls, bobcats, Monarch butterflies, and foxes.
  • Riverdance Family Farms — This 74-acre farm sits along the scenic Merced River, as it winds south from Yosemite Valley. The organic family farm is a popular community spot for all ages and cultures.

Are you a California farmer interested in protecting your farmland? Learn more.

Stay tuned for the launch of AFT’s Farms Under Threat 2040: Choosing an Abundant Future research on farmland protection on June 29 at 12 p.m. (Eastern Time). Register here.

Save the date now for a California-specific webinar: July 27, 2022, 2 p.m. ET/11 a.m. PT.

Special thanks to Kara Heckert, AFT’s Resilient Agriculture West Advisor, for her technical support on this blog post.

About the Author
Teresa O'Connor

California Communications and Outreach Manager

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