SACRAMENTO – A Sutter County rice farm has been permanently preserved for agricultural and habitat use under an agreement involving state, federal and local government, the landowner, and Ducks Unlimited.
“Rice feeds much of the world’s population and rice farming is a huge facet of California agriculture,” said Secretary for Resources Mike Chrisman, a fourth-generation rancher. “Projects like this help us achieve the goal of keeping as much of our farmland in agriculture as possible. Doing so is vital to the future of our state.”
The 316-acre property, near Yuba City and the Sutter National Wildlife Refuge, provides key migratory waterfowl habitat. It is annually leased to individuals for winter waterfowl hunting. The property has been owned by the Cress-Sheehy family for many years and is enrolled in the state’s Williamson Act program.
Through the California Farmland Conservancy Program (CFCP), the California Department of Conservation invested $427,250 in permanently shielding the Cress-Sheey property from development via an agricultural conservation easement. The federal Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program, part of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, chipped in $100,000, and the landowner contributed $27,750 in the form of a bargain selling price. Ducks Unlimited applied for the state and federal funding to create the easement and Wetlands America Trust, an affiliated organization of Ducks Unlimited, will serve as steward of the land.
The CFCP is designed to ensure that the state's most valuable farmland will not be developed. Although California leads the nation in agricultural production, farmland is being converted rapidly for development and other uses. Nearly 54,000 acres of irrigated farmland were taken out of production in the state from 2000 to 2002.
"The needs of a growing population and the needs of agriculture don't always dovetail," said DOC Director Bridgett Luther. "But our California Farmland Conservancy Program offers a partnership between landowners, land stewards and government agencies that helps balance the needs of both sides."
While the farm is zoned for general agriculture, with a minimum parcel size of 80 acres, there’s a significant amount of parcelization for rural residences going on nearby. The Sutter County General Plan currently allows for ranchettes outside Yuba City’s sphere of influence.
“Adjacent land is being sold in 40- to 80-acre parcels and converted to rural residences, which doesn’t bode well for the sustainability of agriculture,” said Brian Leahy, head of DOC’s Division of Land Resource Protection, which manages the CFCP. “There’s a critical mass of prime farmland along the eastern edge of the Sutter Bypass over to Yuba City. The good news is that the area is the focus of a number of conservation organizations.”
The Cress property is adjacent to Shannon Farms, another CFCP-funded easement involving Ducks Unlimited and the federal Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program.
“There are a number of other agricultural easements in the vicinity,” said Alan Forkey, NRCS Assistant State Conservationist for Programs. “Protecting this property could benefit those existing easements and the agricultural stability of the area, so we’re very pleased to be involved in this project.”
Begun in 1996, the CFCP 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. For more information about the program, visit www.conservation.ca.gov/dlrp.
The Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program provides matching federal funds to help purchase development rights to keep productive farm and ranchland in agricultural uses.
Over the past 10 years, Ducks Unlimited has worked with individual Sacramento Valley farmers to provide the support necessary to preserve and protect productive agriculture through the Conservation Easements for Agricultural Land (CEAL) Program. This program has built strong relationships with owners/operators, local, state and federal resource managers, county planners, and government representatives to help build long-term strategies to keep the Valley’s agricultural economy strong.
“Landowner outreach is at the heart of our program,” said Joe Navari of Ducks Unlimited. “Farmers like Paul and Lorie Cress love the land, their agricultural heritage and the wildlife benefits that agricultural lands provide. Through the CEAL program they can protect their land for future generations and for wildlife.”