NR 2006-06
March 28, 2006

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


SACRAMENTO – In the mid-1800s, the California gold rush resulted in about $465 million worth of gold being extracted from California lands. In 2004, the state’s farmers and ranchers produced $25.7 billion worth of goods. Some may say that this is comparing apples and oranges. But it’s more like comparing apples and oranges to gold – and California agriculture is literally as good as gold.

The California Resources Agency and Department of Conservation today called upon Californians to reflect on the work of farmers and ranchers on California Agricultural Day, March 29.

“Farmers and ranchers not only produce food, they also are a driving force in our economy that cannot be taken for granted,” said California Secretary for Resources Mike Chrisman, a fourth-generation California rancher. “We’re fortunate to have the most productive agricultural economy and the biggest variety of agricultural commodities in the nation. On this day, we all should gratefully acknowledge the importance of the agricultural community and remember that food doesn’t come from supermarkets, but rather from farms and ranches -- the result of a lot of hard work.”

While agriculture is California’s biggest industry, total production, the number of farms and the amount of acreage involved in agriculture has dipped in recent years. The 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.

DOC Director Bridgett Luther is especially interested in the issue of farmland protection. Before moving to California a few years ago, she founded the Carolinas office of the Trust for Public Land, a national land conservation organization.

“The issue of disappearing farmland is very sad,” she said. “There’s a real need for the kind of protection the Department of Conservation offers through its programs. California has an incredible natural resource in its wonderfully rich farmland, and we need to protect it while at the same time accommodating a population that keeps on growing. ”

The DOC’s Division of Land Resource Protection oversees several programs that help ensure California’s continued agricultural production by balancing growth and agricultural concerns and promoting wise land-use planning:

Williamson Act: More than 16.8 million acres -- half of California’s agricultural land -- are enrolled in this program, which has been widely credited with reducing “leapfrog” development. The Williamson Act 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 nearly $40 million to reimburse the 54 participating counties for some of the property tax revenues they lose.

Farmland Security Zones: An offshoot of the Williamson Act, this program creates 20-year non-development contracts. Landowners receive additional tax incentives to participate in this program. Currently, 760,000 acres in 19 counties are enrolled in the program.

Farmland Mapping and Monitoring Program: Every two years, this program produces a report documenting land-use conversion on more than 90 percent of California’s private lands. Its maps are distributed to local governments to help evaluate land-use planning decisions. Between the program’s inception and 2002, California has seen the urbanization of nearly 764,000 acres – about one square mile every 5.5 days.

California Farmland Conservancy Program: Begun in 1996, this program has provided $47 million in grant funding to permanently shield 33,000 acres of the state’s best and most vulnerable agricultural land from development with conservation easements. The state budget allocated $15 million of Proposition 40 bond funds to CFCP for fiscal year 2005-06. An additional $9 million of Proposition 40 bond funds are targeted for farmland conservation in the upcoming fiscal year.

Resource Conservation Districts: RCDs are locally governed agencies set up as special districts with their own locally appointed or elected boards of directors. The Division of Land Resource Protection supports – financially and otherwise -- the state’s 100 RCDs. These districts undertake projects such as agricultural land conservation, watershed planning and management, and recreational land restoration.

“The Resources Agency and Department of Conservation salute the work of our farmers and ranchers and pledge our continued support to help protect the state’s agricultural economy and legacy,” Secretary Chrisman said.