NR 2002-38
August 27, 2002

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


SACRAMENTO -- The irrigated land west of the San Joaquin River in Stanislaus County is an almost unbroken stretch of prime farmland more than 100,000 acres in size, although the towns of Newman and Patterson are growing rapidly, according to a new map from the California Department of Conservation.

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.

Designed to help local governments evaluate land-use planning decisions, the enhanced map covers 90 percent of the land in Stanislaus County, including 391,096 acres in the western county not previously categorized. The map area was increased in 2000 using a recently completed National Resource Conservation Service soil survey, while the existing 478,242-acre eastern area was updated.

In the eastern county, the pace of urbanization from 1998-2000 slowed to 898 acres, compared to 1,310 acres in 1996-98. Most of the changes from farmland to urban were due to new housing in Modesto, Ceres, Turlock and Riverbank. There were also new industrial areas noted in Modesto, as well as a small Amtrak station.

While 1,194 net acres of prime farmland were lost on the east side, more than 4,000 acres of pastures and lesser-quality soils were converted to orchards (primarily almonds) or annual crops. Prime farmland losses were due to land idling and low-density development, as well as urbanization.

Looking ahead, Stanislaus County reports that 3,007 acres – including 1,398 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 Stanislaus County planning officials. Interested parties such as the county Farm Bureau, Local Agency Formation Commission, city planners, irrigation districts 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 Stanislaus County and other local governments balance the needs of a growing population with those of the agricultural economy."

Of the 869,338 acres now mapped in Stanislaus County, 44.5 percent was categorized as farmland, 43 percent as grazing land, 6 percent as urbanized land and 5.4 percent as “other” land: wetlands, low-density "ranchettes" and brush or timberlands unsuitable for grazing.

Stanislaus 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 454,600 to 712,100 in 2020. Patterson and Newman are two of the fastest-growing communities in the county, with 27 and 53 percent population growth, respectively, in the last decade. The availability of the new soil survey assures that future FMMP maps will reflect land-use conversion in the western Stanislaus area.

According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, the gross value of Stanislaus County's agricultural production was just under $1.2 billion in 2000, ranking it eighth among the state's 58 counties.

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 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.