NR 2002-34
August 13, 2002

Contact: Carol Dahmen
Mark Oldfield
Don Drysdale
Ed Wilson
(916) 323-1886


SACRAMENTO -- The pace of urbanization in Kern County from 1998-2000 decreased compared to 1996-98 but much more farmland was reclassified as being non-cultivated, according to a map released today by the California Department of Conservation. The map is designed to help local governments evaluate land-use planning decisions.

The Farmland Mapping and Monitoring Program (FMMP), part of DOC's Division of Land Resource Protection, maps 44.5 million acres of California's public and private land to produce a major study every two years.

Kern County is one of the state’s few counties in which both “important” and “interim” farmland is mapped. Farmland on which the USDA has conducted modern soil surveys is known as “important,” and is rated as either prime farmland, farmland of statewide importance, unique farmland or farmland of local importance. “Interim” farmland lacks soil surveys and is categorized as either irrigated or non-irrigated.

In Kern County, 2,272 net acres of land were urbanized during the current mapping cycle compared to 4,343 acres during the 1996-98 cycle. A total of 15,338 acres of farmland – 11,501 acres of “important” farmland and 3,837 “interim” acres – were reclassified to non-cultivated categories on the new map. The 1996-98 total was 10,726 acres out of cultivation.

While the FMMP report indicates there are more than 990,000 acres of farmland in Kern County, the county has consistently been ranked among the state’s leading counties in total urbanization and net losses of farmland. From 1990 to 2000, the amount of “important” and “interim” farmland in the county decreased by 83,741 acres. About one-third of this decrease was due to urban-related changes, while two-thirds were associated with the idling of farmland.

Looking ahead, Kern County reports that 5,006 acres – including 3,653 acres of prime farmland – have been committed to non-agricultural use in the future. Often, this is land earmarked for development. In some cases infrastructure development, such as sewer installation, may be underway.

The map has been sent to Kern County planning officials. Interested parties such as the county Farm Bureau, Local Agency Formation Commission, planning consultants and the county resource conservation districts have received copies.

"We do this mapping to help counties plan and prepare for their expected growth in the coming years," explained Department of Conservation Director Darryl Young. "This information is a tool that can help Kern County and other local governments balance the needs of a growing population with those of the agricultural economy."

Kern County's agricultural land will continue to face development pressure in the foreseeable future. The California Department of Finance projects the county's population will grow from its current 727,000 to more than 1.2 million in 2020.

According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, the gross value of Kern County's agricultural production was more than $2.2 billion in 2000, ranking it fourth among the state's 58 counties behind only Fresno, Tulare and Monterey counties.

Following are examples of agricultural land being urbanized in Kern County:

  • The Links at River Lakes Ranch Golf Course and the River Lake Ranch development northwest of Bakersfield (300 acres), and “The Gardens” development and the “Madison Grove” homes in the same area (30 acres each).

  • The Rancho Fiesta development in western Delano (30 acres).

  • New homes at three locations in the Rosedale area (70 acres).

  • New homes on 10 acres in the Arvin area plus an expansion of about 130 acres of ponds for the Arvin Edison Water Storage District.

The latest statewide study by the FMMP, Farmland Conversion Report 1996-98, was released in the fall of 2000. About 70,000 acres were urbanized throughout the state; more than 43,000 acres of the new urban land, an area about the size of the city of Modesto, were developed on agricultural land. A new statewide report will be released this fall.

Through the Department of Conservation, the state offers programs that provide financial incentives to keep land in agricultural use. The California Farmland Conservancy Program makes grants available to local governments, land trusts or resource conservation districts to purchase permanent agricultural conservation easements from willing landowners. These easements prohibit future development. Farmland Security Zone and Williamson Act contracts provide potential tax benefits to landowners who commit to keeping their land in agricultural use for periods of 20 or 10 years, respectively.

In addition to administering agricultural and open-space land conservation programs, the Department of Conservation ensures the reclamation of land used for mining; promotes beverage container recycling; regulates oil, gas and geothermal wells; and studies and maps earthquakes and other geologic phenomena.