February 25, 2009

Contacts:  Don Drysdale, Department of Conservation, 916-323-1886
                Lila McIver, Great Valley Center, 209-522-5103
                Bill Martin, Central Valley Farmland Trust, 916-687-3178

SACRAMENTO – Two Central Valley family agricultural properties – one in Merced County, the other in Stanislaus County – have been permanently set aside for agriculture.

“These are two significant projects,” California Department of Conservation (DOC) Director Bridgett Luther said. “Our California Farmland Conservancy Program has protected farmland all over the state, but the Menghetti farm near Modesto marks our first project on irrigated cropland in Stanislaus County. We’re also very excited that the Jorgensen ranch near Gustine is shielded from development because of the family’s century-long stewardship of the land.”

The California Farmland Conservancy Program provided more than $2 million in funding to create agricultural easements on both properties, with additional support from the Modesto-based Great Valley Center. Stanislaus County granted $238,987 from a mitigation fund established in 2005 to offset farmland lost by the creation of a Kaiser medical campus in north Modesto.

The Central Valley Farmland Trust (CVFT) will hold the agricultural conservation easements on the farms, eliminating the possibility of them being subdivided. The property owners retain full control of all farming operations and land-management decisions.

“We are seeing more and more farmers in the Central Valley choosing to make agricultural easements a part of their business, financial and estate plans,” said Theresa Kiehn, Agricultural Programs Associate with the Great Valley Center. “They’re a proven way to guarantee that farmland remains in private hands, agricultural business continues and the land’s natural resources are forever protected.”

The 289-acre Jorgensen ranch is located 1.5 miles southwest of Gustine and approximately one mile from the city’s Sphere of Influence.  The three Jorgensen siblings who own the property have leased it to a farmer since 1975. The ranch produces walnuts, beans, and alfalfa on soil classified as prime.

“Our parents instilled in us a love of the land and an understanding of the need to preserve farmland,” Janice Jorgensen said.  “Our grandparents and parents were committed to farming, and we choose to honor them with this agricultural conservation easement.”

The potential for rural development is evident around the farm. A bordering 120-acre parcel was divided into six 20-acre parcels by an absentee owner in 2007, and other nearby properties have been carved into “ranchettes.” The Jorgensen ranch is also near the junction of Interstate 5 and State Route 140, a Bay Area commuter route.

Likewise, the Mengetti Farm borders Highway 132, a commuter corridor between Modesto and the Bay Area. The property is a 155 acre walnut and almond orchard three miles west of Modesto and two miles from the city’s Sphere of Influence.

Development is encroaching towards the farm from two different directions.  Stanislaus County has recently approved new residential subdivisions in the unincorporated community of Salida that lie approximately three miles north of the farm while similar development is occurring on the outskirts of Modesto approximately two miles northeast.  Modesto designated an area two miles east of the farm as a business park planning district that it intends to annex.

As of 2006, Merced ranked No. 5 and Stanislaus No. 6 among California counties in total agricultural production at about $2.3 billion and $2.1 billion, respectively. Despite the efforts of local government and organizations to preserve Stanislaus County’s agricultural heritage, nearly 6,500 acres of farmland or grazing land was reclassified to non-agricultural use from 2004 to 2006, according to DOC’s Farmland Monitoring and Mapping Program. In Merced County, the total for that time period was 3,512 acres.

“The Jorgensen and Menghetti projects are both located in highly strategic agricultural areas and exemplify the type of high quality farmland that CVFT strives to protect in the Central San Joaquin Valley,” CVFT Executive Director Bill Martin said.  “We are very fortunate to be able to partner with the Department of Conservation and the Great Valley Center to permanently protect the productive capability these two farms for future generations.”

About the Department of Conservation’s California Farmland Conservancy Program: Begun in 1996, the CFCP has provided $63 million in funding to permanently shield 41,000 acres of the state’s best and most vulnerable agricultural land from development. CFCP funding is available for new grant proposals. Landowners and trusts are encouraged to contact the Division of Land Resource Protection for information about the program and potential funding. The state also offers programs -- the Williamson Act and Farmland Security Zones -- that provide financial incentives to keep land in agricultural use for periods of 10 and 20 years.

About the Great Valley Center (GVC): Founded in 1997, the GVC is a private, non-profit organization that supports activities and other organizations working to improve the economic, social and environmental well-being of California’s Central Valley, in partnership with the University of California, Merced.

About the Central Valley Farmland Trust (CVFT): Based in Elk Grove, the CVFT was founded in 2004 to help farmers and landowners who want to keep their land in agriculture. The trust’s board includes farmers and professionals from Sacramento, San Joaquin, Stanislaus and Merced counties with expertise and interest in protecting important farmlands in the Central Valley.