The Future is Now: Central Valley Farmland at the Tipping Point?
Executive Summary
Resumen Ejecutivo
Current Trends
     Population Growth
  Farmland Use and Development
  Quality of Farmland Developed
  Efficiency of Urban Development
  "Ranchettes" & Other Rural Development
  Agricultural Trends
Local Plans & Performance
  Analytical Method
  Sutter County
  Sacramento County
  Yolo County
  San Joaquin County
  Stanislaus County
  Merced County
  Madera County
  Fresno County
  Tulare County
  Kings County
  Kern County
Where is The Valley Heading?
Time for Change
  Ideas for Change
What You Can Do
  Rank Your County
  Local Official Contacts
  Local Organizations
  Support AFT
Methodology & Background Data
About AFT in California

Current Trends in the Central Valley

Agriculture Trends

Agricultural production in the Central Valley, as elsewhere in California and the nation, is influenced by a complex set of factors, of which the availability of farmland is only one. So, it is difficult, if not impossible, to relate land use trends directly to the value of farm production, much less to farm profitability. But faced with uncertainties ranging from global competition in fruit, nut and vegetable markets to the increasing cost of environmental regulations, the more Central Valley growers can count on an abundance of high quality land, the better off agriculture will be.

Photo courtesy of California

The more Central Valley growers can count on an abundance of high quality land, the better off agriculture will be.

Despite the urbanization of nearly 100 thousand acres of farmland during the 1990s, the market value of Central Valley farm products sold at the farm gate increased about 20 percent from $11 billion (adjusted for inflation) in 1992 to $13.3 billion in 2002. [1] While this is encouraging, it should not give rise to a false sense of security. A closer look at the Census data reveals that as much as three-quarters of the $2.3 billion increase over the decade appears to be due to factors that evidently were not affected by the availability of farmland in the short term. But over a longer period of time, they could, indeed, be affected by the urbanization of the basic resource on which agriculture depends.

Market Value of Agricultural
Production 1992-2002

Almost a third of the increase in market value between 1992 and 2002, about $690 million, can be attributed to the fact that more than 400 thousand acres of cropland were actually harvested in the latter year. Every year, land is brought in and taken out of production in response to markets, weather and and other factors. A certain amount of land is going to lay fallow or suffer crop failure in any given growing season. As the farmland base becomes smaller, the less of a "cushion" it provides against these contingencies.

Another $1 billion (45%) of the total increase in market value between 1992 and 2002 is accounted for by a 56 percent increase in dairy production. In the Central Valley, dairy products come mainly from large, concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). These generally do not rely on extensive areas of farmland, except for manure disposal. (Tulare County, for example, limits the size of dairy herds to 10 animal units per acre of cropland used for spreading manure.) But because CAFOs are not compatible with nearby residential development, the pattern of future urbanization of farmland could make a significant difference in the viability of dairy production in the Valley. Again, as an example, Tulare County requires that new dairies be at least 1,200 feet from any residence and one quarter mile from any group of 10 or more homes.

Photo by Ed Williams, CDFA

Though annual production figures will vary with all the factors affecting agriculture, its production capacity is permanently reduced with every acre of farmland that is urbanized. In the 1990s, the loss of 97,000 acres of agricultural land, particularly the 53 percent of it that was high quality farmland, reduced the Central Valley's annual agricultural capacity by about $100 million in 2002 dollars. [2] As we shall see, if the urbanization of farmland continues apace, it could translate into a much more significant reduction in both agricultural capacity and output in the future, narrowing the options of growers in the world's premier agricultural region.

The extent to which that happens will depend largely on how well cities and counties plan for and, importantly, actually perform in carrying out their plans to grow efficiently and preserve the highest quality farmland.

[Go to next section, Local Plans & Performance]


[1] All agricultural production statistics from the U.S. Census of Agriculture. Figures for 1992 were adjusted upward using a GNP deflator index of 1.205.

[2] Based on average per acre output, respectively, from high quality farmland ($1,650) and grazing and other non-irrigated agricultural land ($339).

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