Saving Farmland from Urban Sprawl

American Farmland Trust reported TODAY the Agriculture Committee of the California State Assembly, chaired by Member Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton), held an information hearing at the state Capitol earlier this month, November 6, on farmland conservation. It was the first hearing on the subject in the legislature in a decade, and it focused on how state policy can best support the protection of agricultural land.

“Agriculture is by far the most important industry in San Joaquin County, and the loss of farmland threatens our way of life, our prosperity and the food security of the whole country,” Eggman said. “We have a responsibility to find a balanced solution that protects farmland without stifling other growth.”

Edward Thompson, Jr., American Farmland Trust California Director, was among the witnesses who discussed the status of farmland and the effectiveness of state and local policies at conserving the resource.

Thompson outlined 10 state policies that “at best, send mixed signals to local governments, which make most of the decisions about land use.” He said that, despite the good intentions of the Williamson Act, the California Farmland Conservancy Program and other state laws aimed at reducing urban sprawl, “we continue to lose 30,000 acres of farmland a year to wasteful, inefficient development—with no end in sight, unless our policies are strengthened and local governments are held accountable.”

Assemblymember Eggman stated that continuing at this rate would entail another two million acres of agricultural land lost by the year 2050. As population will also continue to increase, losing that much of the state’s farmland base would severely limit California’s capacity to provide one-eighth of the nation’s food and half of its produce, as is presently the case.

Additionally, land converted for urban use has been shown to account for seventy times more greenhouse gas emissions than the same amount of unconverted agricultural land.

On November 5, California Climate and Agriculture Network (CalCAN), Central Valley Farmland Trust, American Farmland Trust and the Community Alliance with Family Farmers collaborated to organize a farm tour with Assemblymember Eggman, her staff, other politicians, state and local Farm Bureau representatives and the Farmland Working Group.

The group visited two farms in the Stockton area that have put their land in permanent agricultural easements with the Central Valley Farmland Trust. The two farmer hosts — John Galeazzi and Jon Branstad —spoke eloquently and passionately about their reasons for wanting to protect their land for future generations of farmers and discussed the business and personal advantages of doing so.

Sources:  American Farmland Trust, State Assemblymember Susan Talamantes Eggman’s Website, California Climate and Agriculture Network

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