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"Rarely, if ever, have so many opportunities to save farmland coincided, much less in an agricultural area as important to California and the nation as Fresno County."

 
 
 
 
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Frenzy over Future of Fresno Farmland

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Fate of Fresno Farmland Hangs in the Balance

The fate of farmland in Fresno County is being determined right now in a series of overlapping planning and policy initiatives that will have sweeping impact on its ability to remain the nation’s leading agricultural county with $4.6 billion a year in farm product sales.  As part of a broader effort throughout the San Joaquin Valley, the county is doing a “Blueprint” for future growth and map3 development.  One of the alternative scenarios being considered is based on a proposed multi-modal transportation system called “Metro Rural Loop,” which would connect cities and people, but could promote urban sprawl unless accompanied by effective land use policies.  At the same time, the City of Fresno is planning to expand into a 9 square mile Southeast Growth Area that now includes some of the county’s best farmland.  A “land buffers task force” is looking into how the county’s 13 smaller cities can all continue to grow without growing together and obliterating the high quality farmland that now separates them – possibly the most difficult challenge facing the county.  Last but not least, the Council of Fresno County Governments has engaged American Farmland Trust to help design a model farmland conservation program that will not only safeguard the county’s best farmland, but also serve as an example for the entire San Joaquin Valley.

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Fresno today bears an uncanny resemblance to LA County in the early 1900’s

Rarely, if ever, have so many opportunities to save farmland coincided, much less in an agricultural area as important to California and the nation as Fresno County.  The stakes are huge – more than 150 square miles of farmland could be paved over within a few decades – and there is only one chance to get it right.  Decisions made by local leaders and their constituents in the next year or two will determine if Fresno will aggressively strive to achieve a better balance between growth and agriculture, or if it will succumb to the inertia of the status quo that transformed the Los Angeles region – Fresno’s predecessor as the nation’s leading agricultural producer – into the poster child for urban sprawl.

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This map, prepared by the Council of Fresno County Governments as part of its Blueprint planning process, shows how urban areas will encroach on what is known as the “Golden Triangle” – Fresno County’s premier agricultural area – by the year 2050, if current growth patterns continue.  The gray areas are existing cities with only a portion of the City of Fresno shown in the top left corner.  The dark lines drawn around the cities are their “spheres of influence,” politically-drawn boundaries where future development is supposed to occur.  The yellow, orange and red areas depict future residential and commercial development spilling over the sphere boundaries.  Unless development consumes less land per new resident, it is projected to destroy another 100,000 acres (156 square miles) of farmland, doubling the current urban “footprint.”  Though farmland may remain between the cities, it could become too expensive for farmers to afford and difficult to farm because of potential conflicts with non-farm neighbors.  County and city officials are intent on finding ways to accommodate future development without ruining agriculture in the process.  Alternative Blueprint growth scenarios would convert less farmland by increasing urban densities.

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American Farmland Trust