Better Growth Management is The Focus of AFT’s Mission in The Golden StatE
California is a global agricultural powerhouse. It is the nation’s leading agricultural state, producing more than $32 billion worth of farm products annually, greater than the combined total of its two closest competitors, Texas and Iowa. But only about 10 percent of the state’s 100 million acres of land (see map) are responsible for most of this production, which includes 300 different crops, 37 percent of all the vegetables and 63 percent of the fruits grown in the U.S. The Golden State is also the nation’s most populous, with a growth rate exceeding that of some developing nations, adding more than 500,000 people—roughly equivalent to the population of San Francisco—every year. Hence, agriculture and growth are on a collision course, with about 50,000 acres of farmland being developed annually.
Since opening its first California office in 1983, AFT has contributed significantly to farmland protection, successfully promoting the establishment of an outstanding Farmland Mapping & Monitoring Program and the authorization and funding for the California Farmland Conservancy Program, which has purchased conservation easements on more than 25,000 acres of land with an investment of $30 million. AFT remains firmly committed to voluntary land conservation and respect for private property rights. But the state’s rapid growth and development has gotten out-of-control. Agriculture is threatened not only by farmland conversion, but also by land speculation – which prices bona fide farmers out of the land market – the proliferation of rural “ranchettes” and, ultimately, by the unwillingness of public officials to “Just Say No” to developers’ sprawling schemes. The resulting urban sprawl is undermining, not just California’s world-class agriculture, but the California dream itself—with traffic congestion and air quality worsening, and more and more communities unable to afford the most basic public services.
Because of all this, AFT is concentrating its energies in California on encouraging better growth management, particularly in the Central Valley, the nation’s most productive and threatened agricultural region. This does not mean stopping growth, but rather directing it away from the most productive farmland and increasing the efficiency of development so that houses, commercial buildings, roads and all other urban uses consume fewer acres of farmland for each new resident. These are the keys to safeguarding what is perhaps the most precious gift with which The Golden State has been endowed – its incomparable, irreplaceable farmland.
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