SACRAMENTO – In a bid to conserve some of the world’s best farmland, the California Department of Conservation has awarded a planning grant to two nonprofit organizations working on agricultural projects in the Central Valley.
A $197,000 grant from the California Farmland Conservancy program, administered by DOC’s Division of Land Resource Protection, will help the Great Valley Center and American Farmland Trust spark voluntary agricultural conservation easement transactions in four Central Valley counties. The project, Developing PACE (Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easements), will be supplemented by $350,000 in matching support from the GVC and $25,000 from AFT.
"We believe this project will provide much needed resources to land conservation organizations as they work to protect the best prime agricultural land in the Central Valley,” said Holly King, Agricultural Programs Manager for the GVC.
Within two years, GVC and AFT plan to have 11 easement projects well on their way to completion in Yolo, San Joaquin, Stanislaus and Merced counties. Specialists will manage each easement project, working with GVC and AFT staff to develop budgets and timelines for each project.
In addition to strategic planning to identify priority areas in each county, the state-provided funding will be used for project development activities such as real estate appraisals, easement term negotiation, and title research.
“As the population of the state increases and development pressure increases on this outstanding farmland, it becomes more important for state government to work with proven farmland preservation leaders such as the Great Valley Center and the American Farmland Trust,” DOC Director Darryl Young said.
The four target counties had a combined agricultural production of $4.75 billion in 2001. Merced, San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties all rank among the state’s top 10 counties in terms of agricultural production, yet there is a relatively small amount of permanently protected farmland in these counties. The CFCP has completed several projects in Yolo County, but many acres of farmland there are in jeopardy of being urbanized because of their proximity to sprawling Sacramento.
“California’s farm and ranch land is being paved over at a rate of 40,000 acres annually,” said John McCaull, director of AFT’s California Regional Office. “By protecting the best land in these four counties, we are working to slow this rapid loss and are also helping communities to keep agriculture in mind as they plan for future growth.”
The Modesto-based Great Valley Center is a private, non-profit, and non-partisan organization created in 1997 that works to make the Great Central Valley a better place to live by supporting the region’s environmental, social and economic well-being.
American Farmland Trust is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to stopping the loss of productive farm and ranch land.
The Department of Conservation’s California Farmland Conservancy Program is designed to ensure that the state's most valuable farmland will not be converted to non-agricultural uses. Through the program, local governments and non-profit organizations can receive grants for planning, such as this one, or to retire development potential on agricultural land through the purchase of permanent conservation easements from willing landowners. To date, the CFCP has contributed nearly $17 million in grants toward the permanent protection of approximately 17,000 acres of farmland. CFCP funds remain for new grant proposals. Landowners and trusts are encouraged to visit the DOC Division of Land Resource Protection for details.
In addition to the GVC-AFT project, the California Farmland Conservancy Program also recently awarded a $63,500 planning grant to the Land Trust of Napa County. The money will help the trust assess farming and grazing lands as part of a long-range strategic planning process. It also will cover the land trust’s associated costs – legal fees and title searches, for example – to acquire three donated easements.