Farmland Mitigation Background
Over the past six decades, California's rapid population growth resulted in the loss of Prime agricultural land as homes, businesses, and community facilities were developed. The California Land Conservation Act of 1965 (commonly referred to as the Williamson Act) was enacted to facilitate orderly growth, offering tax incentives to keep land in agricultural use with minimum ten year conservation agreements. Longer term conservation commitments, known as Farmland Security Zones, were later offered to provide a 20 year planning horizon. The creation of the California Farmland Conservancy Program (CFCP) in 1996 widened the spectrum of agricultural land conservation options via the use of permanent agricultural conservation easements (ACEs). These programs are administered at the State level by the Department of Conservation's Division of Land Resource Protection (DOC-DLRP).
Local jurisdictions have recognized the importance of addressing the impacts of agricultural land conversion through the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and General Plan process. Requirements to partially mitigate for the loss of farmland via in lieu fees or direct purchases of conservation easements on similar land have become policy in a number of cities and counties in recent years. Local mitigation fees have frequently been used as a match for CFCP funds toward the purchase of agricultural conservation easements.
Note: Agricultural land mitigation programs or easements are not required to be accepted by or approved by CFCP. See the Farmland Mitigation Guidebook referenced below for more information about establishing programs in your jurisdiction.
The California Council of Land Trusts has developed a Farmland Mitigation Guidebook and related materials to assist interested organizations in the steps necessary to administer farmland mitigation programs. In addition, the California Department of Water
Resources has posted a Tool Box of Agricultural and Land Stewardship (ALS)Strategies that emphasize voluntary processes that
encourage project proponents and other interested parties in pursuing mutually
Larger infrastructure projects to support the next generation of Californians are now being considered. The DOC-DLRP is working with other state and federal agencies to analyze the potential of these projects to impact agricultural land, and to provide technical assistance to agencies regarding farmland conservation. In 2013, CFCP entered into an interagency agreement with the California High-Speed Rail Authority to secure permanent conservation easements for an area equivalent to the land that will be impacted by the project's right of way and maintenance facilities.
The High-Speed Rail Agricultural Land Mitigation Program is now accepting applications.
Learn more about CFCP statute and conservation easements.