NR 2003-06
March 21, 2003

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


SACRAMENTO – The development pressure on some of the Salinas Valley’s best farmland has been permanently relieved, thanks to the cooperation of a local land trust, the California Department of Conservation and the Packard Foundation.

The Monterey County Agricultural and Historical Land Conservancy has purchased a permanent agricultural conservation easement on the 946-acre Johnson Ranch near King City. The Department of Conservation’s California Farmland Conservancy Program provided a $655,000 grant and the Packard Foundation $355,000 to make the transaction possible.

“We’re very pleased to help ensure that Johnson Ranch will always remain in agricultural use,” Department of Conservation Director Darryl Young said. “The combination of prime soils and a year-round growing season make this some of the most highly productive farmland in the world. And the fact that a significant watershed area is also being protected is an added bonus.”

Johnson Ranch, owned by Rio Farms and Mesa Packing, is located about 1.5 miles north of the city limits of King City. The property consists of 548 acres of irrigated farmland and 398 acres of riparian and natural habitat land on and near the Salinas River. Due to the local weather patterns, the farm is located in one of the few areas of the country that is suitable for lettuce production during the summer months. Lettuce and other irrigated row crop vegetables are grown on the property.

“Johnson Ranch is part of the old Spreckles Sugar Company land, on some of the best ground in the valley,” said David Gill, a member of the ownership group. “The timing seemed right to enter into the program and put the money into the farm operation. The land sits on a main county road, and King City just annexed another

150 acres just south of us. There’s a lot of home building going on, and you never know about the future. Now we can be certain what’s going to happen with this prime land.”

The Monterey County Agricultural and Historical Land Conservancy, founded in 1984, has completed 32 projects that protect more than 10,000 acres of agricultural properties in cooperation with state, county and federal programs, private foundations, and the American Farmland Trust.

“The Johnson Ranch could have been easily threatened by development if the landowners were not so committed to farmland preservation,” said MCAHLC spokesman Sherwood Darington. “We realize that development is inevitable throughout the Salinas Valley, but we strive to direct the growth away from prime farmland when possible.”

California's agricultural production totaled more than $29.8 billion in 2001; Monterey County's total was $2.7 billion, surpassed in the state only by Fresno and Tulare counties. But California's population of about 35 million is expected to grow to nearly 50 million by 2025, and many acres of farmland are being developed to accommodate that growth.

“The California Farmland Conservancy Program offers a way to help balance the needs of the traditional agricultural economy with the needs of a growing population,” DOC Director Young said. “As the population grows, farmland preservation becomes critical.”

The California Farmland Conservancy Program, administered by DOC’s Division of Land Resource Protection, is designed to ensure that the state's most valuable farmland will not be developed. Through the program, local governments and non-profit organizations can receive grants to purchase development rights from willing landowners, thus creating permanent conservation easements. CFCP funds remain for new grant proposals. Landowners and trusts are encouraged to contact the Department of Conservation/Division of Land Resource Protection for information on the program and potential grant funding.

DOC also offers programs – the Williamson Act and Farmland Security Zones -- that provide financial incentives to keep land in agricultural use for periods of 10 and 20 years.

LOCAL CONTACT: Sherwood Darington, 831-422-5868.