More Prime California Farmland Feared to be Lost

August 13, 2012 • Daily Email Recap

July 2012 statements made by a representative of the California Department of Conservation.

More prime farmland feared to be lost to population growth

By STEVE ADLER/ Special from Ag Alert

Created:   08/05/2012 03:46:05 PM PDT


New pressures from high-speed rail and solar-power development, added to California’s continued population growth, threaten to accelerate the loss of prime farmland, according to experts.

“California’s population is approaching 40 million people. Population growth in and of itself is one of the most significant forces in the quest to develop land for interests other than agricultural production and open space,” said John Lowrie of the California Department of Conservation at the July meeting of the California State Board of Food and Agriculture in Sacramento.

While California is the nation’s most populous state, because of its geographic size its overall population density is fairly low, he said, but because population is concentrated in a few areas, those locations feel the effects of urban growth more than other regions.

“One of the more alarming developments, at least to me, is the increasing density in the San Joaquin Valley, which is one of the major agricultural areas of the state,” Lowrie said. “The conversion of agricultural land to urban uses starts slowly; it doesn’t happen overnight. It can be driven by a number of forces and factors, many of which began as very localized and then expanded over time.”

Edward Thompson Jr. of American Farmland Trust told the board that 30 percent of the developed land in California was originally prime farmland. In the Central Valley, the percentage is even higher – more than 60 percent.

“Since most of the cities are located in the vicinity of the best farmland, if we are going to save farmland while cities continue to grow and accommodate more people and jobs, we need to think in terms of yield per acre the same way that farmers look at crops,” he said.

Statewide, there are just under 10 people for every developed acre of land and in the San Joaquin Valley it is about eight people per developed acre. This includes residential and commercial areas, such as shopping malls and parking lots, Thompson said.

“We are likely to lose another 2 million acres of prime agricultural land by mid-century,” he said. “While Southern California bears an enormous amount of that growth, again it is the San Joaquin Valley that is responsible for 60 percent of our agricultural production that is going to bear an equal amount of that growth.”

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