On September 17, 2014, American Farmland Trust (AFT), the Committee for Green Foothills, and the Santa Clara County Local Agency Formation Committee (LAFCO) convened leaders from Santa Clara County and its cities to discuss the overlapping interests of farmland protection and sustainable communities.
Until the 1950s, Santa Clara County was one of the most productive farming regions in the nation. With deep, fertile soils, moderate climate and plentiful water, the “Valley of Heart’s Delight” was renowned for its apricots, cherries, prunes, berries, nursery products and flowers. Over the past fifty years, many of the orchards and fields of the Valley of Heart’s Delight have been lost to urban growth and to what is now known as Silicon Valley. In the last two decades alone, the County lost almost 50 percent of its most productive farmland. Although Santa Clara County is the fastest-growing county in the Bay Area, the Santa Clara Valley remains one of the Bay Area’s largest, most productive agricultural regions. But despite its remaining agricultural productivity, development pressures remain strong, putting the County at a critical juncture to create a community vision for whether and how it will preserve its agricultural heritage.
The goal of the Santa Clara County Farmland Preservation Summit was to engage farmers and ranchers, along with planners, policymakers, and the business community to begin to collectively set a vision for the future of the county’s remaining agricultural lands. The Summit involved presentations from federal, state, regional, and local leaders followed by an in-depth, facilitated discussion among diverse interests to build a meaningful vision and identify new and innovative ways to work toward the vision.
Presentations and discussions explored innovative policies, programs, funding sources that are in play right now, including: Climate Auction Revenues and the Strategic Growth Council; CA Economic Summit, SB 375, and Plan Bay Area; Planned Conservation Areas designations; incentivizing stewardship of ecosystem services on working lands; and trends toward public-private investment in farmland.
View and download the presentations and other materials on the Santa Clara County LAFCO website.
You can also view a blog post on the Committee for Greenfoot Hills website.
California loses an average of 30,000
acres of farmland per year to non-agricultural uses. The relentless, permanent
conversion of agricultural lands threatens food production capacity,
environmental health and the economy. In response to this crisis, the California
Roundtable on Agriculture and the Environment (CRAE)—a diverse coalition of farm and environmental
organizations, including American Farmland Trust—recently called on policymakers to take urgent
action to stem the loss of farmland. CRAE's recommendations closely mirror American Farmland Trust’s priorities and include: strengthening state and local land use policies that
will conserve California’s agricultural lands; financing long-term and
permanent conservation of agricultural land; and keeping farmers farming by
ensuring strong markets for agricultural products.
“Agricultural and environmental
organizations don’t always agree,” notes American Farmland Trust California Director Edward Thompson,
Jr. “So, when they do agree, it’s important. And one thing they agree on
is that California is paving over too much farmland. American Farmland Trust believes that adopting
the recommendations in the Call to Action report will help stem the loss
of California’s irreplaceable farmland.”
In the nation’s leading agricultural county ($6+
billion in annual farm gate sales), the Fresno Council of Governments (COG) has
approved the formation of an official working group to review local policies
affecting farmland. The council, composed of elected officials from the county
and cities within it, created the group after American Farmland Trust’s San
Joaquin Valley Program Manager Dan O’Connell proposed a re-examination of local
policies as part of a Sustainable
Communities Strategy being developed under California’s climate legislation
(SB 375). That law
requires local agencies like the Fresno COG to reduce greenhouse gas emissions
through changes in land use and transportation plans. “Saving farmland,” said O’Connell,
“can play a big role because urban land uses emit between 70 and 200
times more CO2 per acre than agricultural uses.”
As many as 800,000 acres of California farmland could
be fallowed this year because of the drought and reduced water deliveries to
farms that rely on irrigation. The economic toll could exceed $7 billion,
including the loss of 20,000 agricultural jobs. In an opinion piece on American
Farmland Trust’s California Web page, California Director Edward Thompson, Jr.,
compares this loss to the impact of the continuing and permanent loss of the
state’s farmland to urban development.
Posted March 2014
the fundamental impact local government land use decisions have on California’s
farms and ranches, American Farmland Trust is co-sponsoring the new Sustainable
Farmland Strategy legislation (AB 1961) introduced in
February 2014 by Assembly Agriculture Chair Susan Talamantes Eggman. The bill would
require California counties to complete an assessment of their
agriculturally zoned lands, review their policies and adopt a plan to retain land for farming and ranching.
all efforts to conserve California farmland since the 1980’s, this irreplaceable resource
continues to be converted to non-agricultural uses at the rate of 30,000 acres
per year," explains American Farmland Trust’s California Director, Edward
Thompson, Jr. "If this continues, the state will lose another million acres of
farmland by 2050, further narrowing the options for its $40 billion
agricultural industry at a time when climate change, drought and other forces
also put our food supply at risk." American Farmland Trust is encouraging
interested parties to send letters of support
for the bill to Assemblymember Eggman before April 2, 2014.
Learn more about AB 1961
Over the past several decades, California farmers and ranchers have made tremendous progress
at reducing the environmental impact of food production, even as they have increased production
itself to unprecedented levels. This portfolio of case studies compiled by American Farmland
Trust showcases some outstanding examples of environmental stewardship by California farmers and
A few years ago, a strategic planning exercise by state agricultural leaders, called California Agricultural Vision:
Strategies for Sustainability, charted a course for the future of agriculture in the
nation’s leading farm state. One of its key recommendations was that the industry should
“affirmatively pursue the goal of making environmental stewardship an integral and prominent
feature of the California brand.”
The farmers and ranchers profiled here are leading the way toward that ambitious but
crucial goal. Their environmentally beneficial farming practices demonstrate the potential
for building the California brand among consumers who increasingly care about how their food
is produced as well as about its quality and cost. What remains is for other producers to
follow the example set by these outstanding stewards, and for government and the public to
give them the support and understanding they need to meet the challenge.
Learn more about the Farm and Ranch Case Studies
The conservation practices that California farmers and ranchers use on a daily basis help protect water quality in streams and lakes, provide vital wildlife habitat, and contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. In order to highlight these benefits, the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) recently compiled an interactive database of the many ecosystem services currently being produced in the state. The new database provides detailed information on nearly 400 farms implementing conservation practices across California. The database can be sorted by keyword, county, crop type and ecosystem services provided (such as pest control and nutrient management).
“The new ecosystem services database released by CDFA is a fantastic tool for farmers looking for information on a variety of conservation practices,” explains American Farmland Trust’s Environmental Consultant, Steve Shaffer. “Examples of everything from efficient irrigation practices to building soil fertility are now at farmers’ fingertips with this database.”
Learn more about California's conservation practices
On August 2, 2013 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. The conference showcased outstanding local and regional farmland conservation programs throughout the state and explored ways in which state policies could be better administered or changed to promote farmland conservation.
“What we learned,” said American Farmland Trust’s California Director, Edward Thompson, Jr., “is that some local communities have successfully demonstrated how to reduce the development of farmland and permanently protect it. 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.”
From the knowledge gathered at the conference, American Farmland Trust will mount a campaign in California to promote changes in state policy and also encourage more local communities to adopt farmland conservation programs.
Read more about the conference or view and download the presentations.
Much of the farmland that is lost to development around the country, and here in California, is turned into sprawling residential developments to meet the needs of growing national population. Unfortunately, new developments are almost always placed on the urban fringe of growing cities. These urban-influenced areas are estimated to be responsible for producing 91 percent of the country’s fruits and berries, 78 percent of its vegetables, 67 percent of its dairy, and 54 percent of its poultry. With these statistics in mind, it’s easy to see the dramatic impact that unchecked development will have on the nation’s food supply.
Read more about the research
According to a new study from American Farmland Trust, specialty crop growers in California are increasingly adopting beneficial management practices (BMPs); however the significant up-front costs and perceived loss of crop yield are limiting wider adoption. Over the course of eight months, American Farmland Trust polled specialty crop growers and held focus groups to uncover what would encourage them to try new conservation practices. The study, Encouraging California Specialty Crop Growers to Adopt Environmentally Beneficial Management Practices for Efficient Irrigation and Nutrient Management, highlights effective incentives and outlines recommendations for encouraging more widespread BMP adoption.
Read the press release about the specialty crops and adoption of BMPs.
Regional planning agencies throughout California are working on “sustainable community strategies” (SCSes) aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions by emphasizing more compact community development and alternatives to automobile travel. SCSes offer a new opportunity to conserve farmland by reducing sprawl. At the same time, a recent study from the University of California, Davis, found that urban areas produce at least 70 times more greenhouse gases per acre than agricultural operations. “This lends new urgency to saving farmland as a means of addressing climate change as well as maintaining food production,” explains Edward Thompson, Jr., American Farmland Trust’s California Director. Find out more about SCSes and American Farmland Trust’s goal of reducing the rate of farmland conversion rate by 50 percent.
A new report from American Farmland Trust's California office, titled Saving Farmland, Growing Cities: A Framework for Implementing Effective Farmland Conservation Policies in the San Joaquin Valley [PDF], analyzes current efforts by Valley communities to preserve farmland and makes concrete recommendations to help stop farm and ranch land in the Valley from becoming housing developments and mini-malls.
Learn more about the Saving Farmland, Growing Cities report.
All farmers and ranchers know preparing for the year ahead starts with looking back at the bright spots and challenges from the seasons before.
At AFT, we’re proud that in 2012 we rallied farmers and citizens alike to advocate on behalf of protecting farm and ranch land. Our innovative projects helped family farmers pioneer sound farming practices, which help to preserve our land and water resources. We also laid the groundwork to keep farmers on the land by providing tools and resources that allow them to thrive.
We’re sharing accomplishments and inspiration from 2012 in the words of our expert staff.
AFT helped launch a 'greenprint,' which is intended to be a set of strategies for the conservation and sustainable management of land and water resources, in the San Joaquin Valley. This is California’s most important agricultural region, the southern half of the Central Valley. It’s like a fruit forest 250 miles long by 50 miles wide. In the spring when all the fruit, the almonds and the peaches and the plums everything are in bloom, it’s just astonishing. But it’s under siege from urban growth with a population of four million expected to reach nine million by mid-century.
Read more from California Director Ed Thompson, Jr.
The Stanislaus County Local Agency Formation Commission
(LAFCO) recently voted 4-1 to adopt a policy that may help reduce farmland loss
along the urban edge. The policy requires cities to prepare farmland conservation
plans before they annex more land or expand their spheres of influence. This is
believed to be the first such LAFCO policy in the San Joaquin Valley. Existing
spheres of influence– areas around cities officially designated for growth –
encompass 32,000 acres (50 square miles) of land in Stanislaus County, much of
it highly productive farmland. The LAFCO policy has provoked wider debate over
farmland conservation in Stanislaus County, which produced $3 billion worth of
food and other agricultural products last year. Find
out more about the groundbreaking LAFCO policy.
More than 200 leaders from business, agriculture, government and nonprofits who recently gathered in Fresno to discuss strategies for improving the economy of the San Joaquin Valley, ranked farmland preservation among the highest priorities for state action. The findings of the meeting, which focused on “Building Prosperity for the Valley’s Ag Value Chain,” will be brought to a state-wide summit on economic prosperity this May. Participating in the conference was American Farmland Trust’s California Director Ed Thompson, Jr., who said, “This is further evidence that the San Joaquin Valley is beginning to recognize that it's agricultural land is not unlimited and that affirmative steps must be taken to conserve it.”
American Farmland Trust is taking the next step in promoting a more robust regional agriculture and food system in the San Francisco Bay Area. Thanks to the support of the California Coastal Conservancy, we will be conducting a feasibility study and developing a business plan for a regional agricultural economic development finance corporation as part of our on-going Bay Area Agricultural Sustainability Initiative. This would attract capital and strategically invest it to promote increased supply of and demand for locally-produced food. "The Coastal Conservancy recognizes the significant contributions that Bay Area farms and ranches make to our quality of life and economic vitality,” remarked Amy Hutzel, Program Manager for the San Francisco Bay Area Coastal Conservancy. "We are pleased to provide this grant to the American Farmland Trust to increase economic investment in our working lands.” Our partners in the project are the Greenbelt Alliance and Sustainable Agriculture Education.
Stanislaus County mayors have proposed urban growth boundaries for 2050. This proposal appears to be a first for cities in the San Joaquin Valley, intended to protect farmland that surrounds most of the cities in the Valley. While the mayors’intentions are praiseworthy, it remains to be seen if the recommended boundaries will result in conserving the county’s best farmland. Using data from the U.C. Davis Center for the Environment, American Farmland Trust California Director Ed Thompson found that one quarter of all the prime farmland in Stanislaus County falls within the proposed boundaries. Moreover, the boundaries outlined by some cities include seven to nine times as much land as will be needed for anticipated population growth. This precedent-setting process is now instigating a county-wide dialogue on farmland protection among policy makers and the general public. Still, as Thompson explained to The Modesto Bee, Stanislaus County continues to lead the way in promoting land use policies to save farmland in the Valley. Though not perfect, he explains, “they’re talking about the right things.”
California agricultural leaders are making progress on a broad front to address major challenges to the industry’s sustainability, guided by goals established by the State Board of Food and Agriculture. And they are doing so by collaborating with environmentalists and representatives of other groups with an interest in the food system. These are the conclusions of a new report by American Farmland Trust (AFT) on the progress of California Agricultural Vision.
Read the new From Strategies to Results report and share your thoughts on AgVision strategies.
|Photo: Amy Valente, San Joaquin County Farm Bureau
In 2002, the California state legislature passed a law establishing priority goals for
land use planning: promote urban infill and efficient development while protecting environmental and agricultural resources. Now the administration of Governor Jerry Brown has signaled its intention to make those goals a reality. In a recently released strategic plan, the California Strategic Growth Council, a cabinet-level body charged with advancing state laws related to land use, has highlighted AB 857 as one of its priorities for action. American Farmland Trust applauds the council for focusing on the implementation of this law and—in particular—its emphasis on preserving California’s most productive farmland from urban sprawl.
Read more about implementation of the land use plan.
After nearly a decade planning for a high-speed “bullet” train from Southern California to the San Francisco Bay Area, serious questions are being raised, including the threat to the incomparable and irreplaceable farmland in the San Joaquin Valley. The decision on a right-of-way and the release of an environmental impact report on the project shed light on how, if executed as planned, the resulting loss to California agriculture could be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Among the other impacts of the project, the right-of-way will take thousands of acres of prime farmland out of production and hundreds of farms will be cut in half by train tracks protected by high fences that that have been likened to the Great Wall of China.
Approximately 40 percent of the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area is comprised of farmland, but in the last 18 years alone, 18 percent of the most fertile cropland has been lost. The Bay Area Agricultural Sustainability Project—a collaboration between American Farmland Trust, Greenbelt Alliance and Sustainable Agriculture Education—released these and other findings about the region’s farm and ranch land earlier this spring. The group will continue to evaluate agricultural viability and engage the community as they work to design an economic development strategy to strengthen the agricultural and environmental future of the Bay Area.
The San Joaquin Valley is California’s leading agricultural area, responsible for more than $20 billion in annual food production. It is also one of the fastest-growing areas in the country, losing six square miles of farmland a year to urban development. Until 2004, there was no regional planning for growth in the valley; just eight counties and more than 30 cities going their own way. Today, however, there are at least three separate regional planning exercises taking place, each with its own objectives, timetable and leadership. What will emerge from all this planning is a legitimate question, and the fate of the region’s irreplaceable, world-class farmland hangs in the balance.
The San Francisco Bay Area is one of the nation’s leaders in local food. Sustaining Our Bounty: An Assessment of the State of Farming and Ranching in the San Francisco Bay Area [PDF], summarizes the challenges and opportunities of the region’s $1.9 billion a year agriculture industry, calling for new strategies to support its future prosperity. A key may be to enable farmers and ranchers to capitalize on the growing demand for locally-produced food from the region’s seven million consumers. In March 2011, along with our partners, Greenbelt Alliance and Sustainable Agriculture Education, we convened a regional conference to design strategies to sustain Bay Area agriculture.
Just eighteen days before his inauguration, Governor-elect Jerry Brown put in an appearance at a December 16th event marking the release of an American Farmland Trust report to the State Board of Food & Agriculture. The report, entitled California Agricultural Vision: Strategies for Sustainability, outlines a plan to assure the continued viability of the state’s $36 billion-a-year agriculture industry. Taking time from working on the state budget, Brown spoke to a gathering of leaders representing agriculture, environment, farm labor, hunger and nutrition and local food systems, acknowledging that farmers and ranchers “face challenges with water, soil, workers, pesticides, air… and politicians.” The Governor-elect observed, “California is in for some good times after a certain period of difficult times,” a statement about the overall state economy that could just as easily apply to agriculture in the nation’s leading farm state.
The California Roundtable on Agriculture and the Environment (CRAE) has released a new report called “Permitting Restoration” that details regulatory obstacles that deter or prevent farmers and ranchers from improving fish and wildlife habitat. It underscores the increasingly burden that government regulation places on many aspects of agriculture, and highlights the need to avoid regulatory duplication, delay and other administrative problems – without compromising environmental quality.
On September 23, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) adopted targets for greenhouse gas reduction that must be met through changes in land use planning and development that will help save farmland. To meet the targets, local communities must reduce auto travel, a major source of greenhouse gases, by making it possible for people to walk, bicycle or take convenient public transportation between their homes, schools, shopping and places of work. One of the best ways to accomplish this is by harmoniously mixing these uses and consuming less land per person than traditional “urban sprawl.”
The initial recommendations of a blue ribbon committee convened by American Farmland Trust (AFT) to address the major challenges facing California agriculture were accepted in late June by the State Board of Food & Agriculture, the principal agriculture advisor to Governor Schwarzenegger. Five challenges are covered by the recommendations.
A new report by the planning firm Calthorpe Associates highlights the vivid contrast between the impacts of conventional urban sprawl and smart growth on California’s land, water, energy, climate and the economy. Charting Our Future documents the initial application of a new computer modeling tool called Rapid Fire to examine four different future growth scenarios.
The first year of AFT’s BMP Challenge field trials in the San Joaquin Valley of California have proved to be a success, with no reported loss of crop yields due to the use of new beneficial management practices (BMPs) that reduce water pollution and climate-altering greenhouse gas emissions. Six growers of forage corn altered their cultivation and fertilization routines on 600 acres under agreements that promised to indemnify them for any economic loss they might suffer because of reduced yields
At the invitation of the California Senate Local Government Committee, chaired by Sen. Dave Cox (1st Dist.), AFT California Director Edward Thompson, Jr., testified that the Williamson Act needs significant improvement. The Williamson Act is the backbone of the state’s farmland preservation effort, offering farmers and ranchers lower property taxes in exchange for agreeing not to develop their land for at least 10 years. Governor Schwarzenegger’s most recent budget proposal would cut virtuallyall funding for the program, forcing local governments to cancel agreements with landowners and leaving tens of thousands of acres of farm and ranch land vulnerable to development.
American Farmland Trust and two local organizations have launched an effort to conserve farmland and encourage those who farm it to produce more food for local markets in the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area region. The project is an outgrowth of an Urban Rural Roundtable that AFT helped lead, which recommended a number of actions to increase both the production and consumption of locally-grown food in order to promote greater economic opportunity for farmers, regional food security, improved public health and environmental quality.
AFT has released a new Guide to Beneficial Management Practices for California Specialty Crops that outlines farming practices that growers can use to reduce pollution, conserve water and energy, improve wildlife habitat and moderate climate change. The interactive on-line guide matches California's leading specialty crops with specific farming practices, their environmental benefits and sources of funding to pay for their use.
Much has been made of the potential for U.S. agriculture to help reduce climate-altering greenhouse gases by modifying farming practices. Often overlooked, however, is the role that saving farmland from urban sprawl can play in reducing the risks of climate change. Quite simply, one of the most important strategies for greenhouse gas reduction – promoting more compact, walkable, transit-oriented urban development – is also the key to reducing the loss of farmland, especially in California.
A policy council comprised of 16 local elected officials from eight San Joaquin Valley counties endorsed a “blueprint” for future development in California’s premier agricultural region that will save 118,000 acres of farmland by 2050, a 36% reduction compared with the way land is now being developed. While encouraging, the council’s decision rejected an even more ambitious growth scenario we endorsed by that would have cut farmland loss in half while also reducing both energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by 20%.
Paving Paradise: Study Details Statewide & Local Farmland Losses
One out of every six acres developed in California since the Gold Rush was paved over between 1990 and 2004. So concludes our report, Paving Paradise: A New Perspective on California Farmland Conversion. In all, more than a half million acres were urbanized during this period, almost two-thirds of it agricultural land. Among AFT’s other findings: More than 60% of the land developed in the San Joaquin Valley, which accounts for half of California’s agricultural production, was farmland of the very best quality. Statewide, development is consuming an acre of land for every 9.4 people – imagine them spread out over a football field.
If sprawling development patterns continue, another 2 million acres of California land will be paved over by 2050. If, however, the state as a whole develops land as efficiently as Sacramento County or the Bay Area did in recent years, a million acres of California’s irreplaceable farmland could be saved.
P.O. Box 73856
Davis, CA 95617