NR 2005-4
March 23, 2005

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


SACRAMENTO -- The California Resources Agency and Department of Conservation today saluted the work of the state’s thousands of farmers and ranchers in recognition of National Agriculture Week, which runs through March 26.

“California has the most diverse and productive agricultural economy in the nation,” said Resources Secretary Mike Chrisman, himself a rancher. “Farmers and ranchers are an important part of our economy, and National Agriculture Week is a great opportunity to recognize and show appreciation for the work of the agricultural community.”

National Agriculture Week – organized by the Agriculture Council of America – is designed to raise awareness of U.S agricultural significance on national and global economies. Agriculture is California’s biggest industry. Production totaled $27.8 billion in 2003 – nearly double that of the second most productive state, Texas. California has nearly 78,500 farming operations, less than four percent of the nation’s total.

The California Department of Conservation (DOC) is responsible for guiding the use of the state's natural resources, including farmland, to ensure a safe and productive environment for California's present and future generations.

“We face the difficult challenge of protecting incredibly productive farmland while at the same time making room for a growing population,” said Dennis O’Bryant, head of DOC’s Division of Land Resource Protection. “It’s important to remember – not only during National Agriculture Week but throughout the year – that the food we eat comes from farms and ranches, and that agricultural land is an irreplaceable natural resource.”

Through the Division of Land Resource Protection, DOC administers or supports several programs designed to balance urban and agricultural needs, helping to ensure California’s continued agricultural production.

DOC has permanently protected about 25,000 acres of California’s best and most vulnerable agricultural land through the California Farmland Conservancy Program (CFCP). Begun in 1996, the CFCP provides grant funding for acquiring agricultural conservation easements.

Approximately $39 million in state grant funds have been issued for 60 CFCP projects. Federal and/or local government, private foundations, land conservancies and other sources have put up $33 million in matching funds to 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.

Many other projects are in the pipeline. DOC accepts grant proposals year-round.

More than 16.6 million acres – half of California’s agricultural land – are enrolled in the Williamson Act. Widely credited for preventing leapfrog development, the program provides tax incentives to landowners who voluntarily place land in contracts that continuously restrict development for 10 years into the future until the landowner begins the process of exiting the restrictions. The current budget earmarks $40 million to reimburse the 54 participating counties for some of the property tax revenues they lose.

The Farmland Security Zone program – an offshoot of the Williamson Act -- creates 20-year contracts. Landowners receive additional tax incentives to participate in this program. Currently, 763,175 acres in 19 counties are enrolled in the program.

DOC’s Division of Land Resource Protection also works with and supports the state’s 100 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.

Since 2000, DOC has administered the Watershed Coordinator Grant Program, which has distributed more than $12 million in grants for improving watersheds in California. The grant program has provided funding for work on 62 impaired watersheds throughout the state and currently funds 48 grants through 2007.

Another DLRP branch, the Farmland Mapping and Monitoring Program, documents land-use conversion on more than 90 percent of California’s private lands every two years, producing maps that help local governments evaluate land-use planning decisions.

The most recent statewide data, which has been compiled into the California Farmland Conversion Report 2000-02, indicated that more than 91,000 acres were urbanized throughout the state. Inland locations accepted a greater proportion of the new urban land than ever, according to the study. Mapping for the 2002-04 report is underway, with the first maps to be released in spring 2005.

“California is truly one of the world’s garden spots,” Secretary Chrisman said. “Both the Resources Agency and Department of Conservation are proud to help protect the state’s agricultural legacy and we salute the work of our farmers and ranchers.”