NR 2002-44
September 24, 2002

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


SACRAMENTO – The pace of urbanization in Tulare County slowed from 1998-2000 compared to 1996-1998, according to a new map from the California Department of Conservation. But new information about the soils in the state’s No. 1 agricultural county is providing a more accurate picture than ever before of how land use is changing.

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 1.6 million-acre Important Farmland Map shows more than 393,000 prime farmland acres thanks to a recently complete National Resource Conservation Service soil survey in western Tulare County. Previously, farmland on about half the map was classified simply as irrigated or non-irrigated due to the lack of soil information.

The FMMP noted 878 newly urbanized acres in Tulare County compared to 1,849 acres in the 1996-98 mapping cycle. In the Visalia area, there were 22 changes of irrigated farmland to urban land, mainly new homes and office buildings. There were also five urban additions in the Tulare area.

A large amount of irrigated farmland was reclassified as now being used for grazing land and dry grains. There were numerous instances of lesser-quality land being used for confined livestock, irrigated pasture and nurseries. There were also 63 instances of new irrigated farmland noted, most notably citrus and olive trees, particularly in foothill regions.

Looking ahead, Tulare County reports that 2,745 acres – including 1,354 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 Tulare 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 Tulare County and other local governments balance the needs of a growing population with those of the agricultural economy."

Of the 1,585,871 acres mapped in Tulare County, 55 percent was categorized as farmland, 28 percent as grazing land, 3 percent as urbanized land and 14 percent as “other” land: wetlands, low-density "ranchettes" and brush or timberlands unsuitable for grazing.

Tulare 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 375,100 to 570,900 in 2020.

According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, the gross value of Tulare County's agricultural production was nearly $3.5 billion in 2001, ranking it first 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.