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

Farmland Use and Development

Photo courtesy ofDuring the 1990s, the Central Valley experienced a decline of about 223,000 acres of high quality farmland. [1] About 79,000 acres of this was simply reclassified by the Department of Conservation as less productive farmland because it was no longer irrigated. If irrigation is resumed, it could once again be classified as high quality farmland. This kind of change in the agricultural use of land is common. In fact, all statistics on changes in the various classes of agricultural should be considered the net result of many individual changes.

Almost 100,000 Acres Urbanized in Just A Decade

Changes in Land Use
[Click chart to enlarge]  

Of the net 144,000 acres permanently removed from agricultural production, about 98 thousand acres were developed for urban uses, or a little less than 10 thousand acres per year. Between 2000 and 2002, however, another 27,000 acres of farmland were urbanized, with the dramatically accelerated rate apparently due to a recovering economy.

In the 1990s, another 46,000 acres were reclassified as "other" land by the Department of Conservation. Much of this was land developed into large-lot rural residences and land taken out of agricultural production either in anticipation of its eventual development or for environmental purposes such as wildlife refuges. The Department has not yet broken down this category more specifically, except for ranchettes in four Central Valley counties. [See Ranchettes]

Increase in Urban Land
1990-2000 by County

The amount of land developed for urban uses tended to reflect the population growth in each county. There were, however, significant differences in the quality of the land developed and the efficiency with which it was developed in terms of the amount of land lost for each new resident. These important issues are dealt with in subsequent sections of this report.

[Go to next section: Quality of Land Developed]


[1] For simplicity, we use the term "high quality farmland" to include land classified by the state Department of Conservation as prime farmland, unique farmland or farmland of statewide importance. These are basically irrigated croplands that produce the highest crop values per acre with the lowest production costs and fewest environmental impacts. In short, it is the land California agriculture can least afford to lose.
[Click to view Land Classification Definitions]

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