NR 2003-05
March 14, 2003

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

California’s Farmers and Ranchers are the Most Productive in the Nation

SACRAMENTO – When it comes to agriculture, California is truly “the golden state.” An incredibly diverse variety of crops and livestock thrive in the state, and California’s agricultural production totaled $29.8 billion in 2001.

In recognition of National Agriculture Week, which begins Sunday, and National Agriculture Day (March 21, the first day of spring) Department of Conservation Director Darryl Young commended California’s farmers and ranchers for their tremendous, but often overlooked, contribution to the state’s economy.

“It may come as a surprise to some people that agriculture is the state’s largest industry,” Young said. “While this is officially National Agriculture week, Californians should be aware of, and thankful for, the work of the state’s farmers and ranchers every day. We need to appreciate the fact that our state is blessed with some of the world’s best farmland, and work to preserve it to feed ourselves, the nation and the world.”

The Department of Conservation works with local governments, landowners and non-profit organizations to ensure California’s continued agricultural production.

The Williamson Act, established in 1965 and administered by DOC’s Division of Land Resource Protection, shields more than 16 million agricultural and open space acres from development. The program provides tax incentives to landowners who voluntarily place land in contracts, which continuously restrict development for 10 years into the future until the landowner begins the process of exiting the restrictions.

An offshoot of the Williamson Act, the Farmland Security Zone program, creates 20-year contracts. Landowners receive additional tax incentives to participate in this program. Currently, 708,000 acres in 19 counties are enrolled.

The California Farmland Conservancy Program, in existence since 1996, provides

grant funding for acquiring agricultural conservation easements. State grant funds are used in combination with federal and/or local funds to help local land trusts and other entities purchase conservation easements from willing landowners, thereby retiring the property’s development potential. The landowners retain ownership of the land, and it remains available for agricultural production permanently. The restriction against future development is held by the land trust, even if the land is sold.

The program has so far permanently protected 21,000 acres of farmland, using $26 million in CFCP grant funding that has been matched by another $25 million in private, local, and federal funding. Many other projects are in the pipeline, and about $9 million in CFCP funding is currently available. DOC accepts grant proposals year-round.

DOC’s Division of Land Resource Protection also works with and supports the state’s 103 Resource Conservation Districts. RCDs are locally governed agencies set up as special districts with their own locally appointed or elected boards of directors. RCDs are authorized to undertake projects such as agricultural land conservation, watershed planning and management, recreational land restoration, irrigation management, forest stewardship, wildlife habitat enhancement and conservation education.

The Farmland Mapping and Monitoring Program will release its biennial California Farmland Conversion Report in the coming weeks. This program tracks land use change on 90 percent of the privately held land in the state (44.5 million acres), producing maps that help local governments evaluate land-use planning decisions. Between 1984 and 2000, the FMMP documented new urban development on more than 670,000 acres, an area larger in size than Sacramento County.

“We feel a great sense of satisfaction in helping to protect the farmland that feeds America,” said Erik Vink, who heads DOC’s Division of Land Resource Protection. “We don’t always think about how food ends up on our table, but National Agriculture Week is the perfect time to pause for a moment to appreciate the work of farmers and ranchers.”