NR 2004-16
May 21, 2004

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


SACRAMENTO -- The amount of agricultural land in Santa Barbara County decreased from its 2000 peak, while urbanized acreage increased slightly, according to a new map released by the California Department of Conservation.

After increasing by more than 14,000 acres in the late 1990’s, the amount of irrigated land in the county dropped by nearly 2,000 acres between 2000 and 2002. The net gain of 47 acres of urbanized land was lower than might be expected due to boundary improvements to the existing urban area using high-resolution imagery.

The Farmland Mapping and Monitoring Program (FMMP), part of DOC's Division of Land Resource Protection, documents land-use conversion on 45.8 million acres of California’s private and public land every two years. The maps and statistics are designed to help local governments evaluate land-use planning decisions. The 2002 analysis is nearly complete statewide, while 2004 mapping is getting underway.

“This information helps counties and cities see the patterns and make informed choices about how they want to direct growth in the future,” Department of Conservation Director Darryl Young said. “The population of California will continue to grow, and it’s vital that we ensure there’s enough room for people and agriculture.”

The Farmland Mapping and Monitoring Program classifies land as either farmland (prime being the best of four types of farmland), grazing land, urban land, other land or water. The “other” category includes low-density "ranchettes," wetlands, and brush or timberlands unsuitable for grazing.

In Santa Barbara County, according to the most recent FMMP report, a net

total of 2,114 acres of irrigated farmland — 83 percent of that prime soils -- were reclassified to grazing land or non-agricultural uses. Many of those conversions were due to fields that had been fallow for three or more mapping cycles.

Examples of recent urbanization in Santa Barbara County include new apartments and a baseball diamond on the western fringe of Guadalupe, 15 acres of new homes on the northern fringe of Santa Maria, the 10-acre “Homes at Ballard Canyon” development near Buellton, and the 20-acre Maravilla senior living community in the Goleta area.

Since the 1990 FMMP survey, Santa Barbara County has gained 4,587 urbanized acres. Irrigated land occupies 12,445 more acres in 2002 than it did in 1990, primarily due to vineyard development in the second half of the decade. Much of the new irrigated land had previously been in grazing uses.

The agricultural land in Santa Barbara County will continue to face development pressure in the foreseeable future. The California Department of Finance projects that the county’s population will increase from about 406,000 in 2000 to nearly 553,000 by 2020.

According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, the gross value of Santa Barbara County’s agricultural production was more than $775 million in 2002.

The maps have been sent to county planning officials and organizations such as the county Farm Bureau, Local Agency Formation Commission, city planners, irrigation districts and county resource conservation districts. Printed copies, enlargements, or digital versions of the maps are available to the public. Call (916) 324-0859 or email for more information.

The latest statewide study by the FMMP, Farmland Conversion Report 1998-2000, was released last June. More than 91,000 acres were urbanized throughout the state – a 30-percent increase from the 1996-98 mapping cycle – and 27 percent of that total came from irrigated farmland.

Through the Department of Conservation, the state offers programs that provide financial incentives to keep land in agricultural use.