Lay of the land: Developed former California farmland not ‘priceless’

In a recent “gristmill” article at Grist.com, writer Susie Cagle discusses agriculture.

California's flat, expansive and agriculturally-robust but often air-pollution-shrouded San Joaquin Valley
California’s flat, expansive and agriculturally-robust but often air-pollution-shrouded San Joaquin Valley

Cagle, in citing the American Farmland Trust (AFT), not only reports there are 25-million-plus California farmland acres (as of 2007) but also that such acreage is shrinking at a rate of better than 1 percent per year. The Golden State is losing ground – losing precious ag land, in other words.

A cause for concern, though?

According to Cagle, “All’s not lost: Two proposed bills could give a boost to California agriculture big and small, and potentially change the way the Golden State develops over the coming years.”

What Cagle is alluding to is: California Assembly Bill 551 (The Urban Agriculture Incentive Zone Act) and California Assembly Bill 823 (the California Farmland Protection Act).

It’s not a panacea but it’s a start.

Cagle points out that AB 551 “would set up an optional program for counties to give residents breaks on their property taxes so long as they’re using the land to grow food.” And as for AB 823, Cagle writes, “The bill would require that developers protect one acre of farmland for every acre they build on, either by buying it themselves or bankrolling the purchase by another entity.”

Any amount of arable acreage loss means land that was once used for growing crops for consumption no longer serves in that function. Now, granted losing farmland acres to the tune of better than one percent per year doesn’t sound like all that big a deal, but over time, the losses add up. It isn’t only that land once retained to feed a growing world population goes out of farm production, what becomes of that land after-the-fact can be cause for considerable concern. This is the way I see it.

In “Disappearing California Ag Land a ‘Growing’ Concern: ‘Losing the Farm’ Not the Best Option,” at the California Progress Report, I wrote: “In the Golden State, for every 9.4 people, an acre of land is being consumed by development. This startling revelation is among the findings of a new AFT ‘Paving Paradise: A New Perspective on California Farmland Conservation’ study, as documented on the AFT website in ‘Paving Paradise: New AFT Study Details Statewide & Local Farmland Losses’.”

There is more.

“Also revealed in the study is this eye-opener and thought-provoker: ‘If sprawling development patterns continue, another 2 million acres of California farmland will be paved over by 2050. If, however, the state as a whole develops land as efficiently as Sacramento County or the [San Francisco] Bay Area did in recent years, a million acres of California’s irreplaceable farmland could be saved,’” I pointed out.

I believe the bottom line in all of this is that farmland converted to residential, commercial, or industrial use affects the world beyond, with potential impacts on everything from local travel patterns and traffic flows to water availability and air quality, for example.

Being that there are likely multiple impacts associated with the conversion of farmland to non-agricultural land use, I believe all interested stakeholders should have a say in whether projects get “green-lighted” or not. To me, it is just that simple.

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