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Organization Title
Farmland Mapping and Monitoring Program
1984 to 2008 TIME SERIES
Merced-Atwater, Merced County

Land use change in the Merced area, 1984-2008

In this Image

There are an assortment of changes represented in this central part of Merced County.  Conversions to urban land (red) totalled more than 4,700 acres during the 1984-2008 period.  Land also transitioned out of irrigated agriculture (from green to yellow) due to idling at the periphery of Merced and Atwater.  Conversely, foothill grazing areas in the central-northern section were planted to orchards or other high value crops, changing from yellow to green.  In total, irrigated farmland decreased by nearly 8,800 acres in the image. 

The level of detail increases in the 2002 data due to the availability of digital soil data (SSURGO).  Information on these changes was gathered from air photos, local comments, and field reconnaissance.  Area shown is more than 65,200 acres or 102 square miles.   

A brief history of the Merced area

Merced County is located in the middle of the San Joaquin Valley and was first settled in 1834 as part of the San Luis Gonzaga Land Grant. After the discovery of gold in 1849, sheep, cattle, and grain growing fed the needs of miners.  Over the years, agriculture has played a major role in the county's economy with milk, chickens, almonds, cattle, and tomatoes becoming some of its top commodities.

The City of Merced was incorporated in 1889 and serves as the county seat. For many years the city depended on agriculture and nearby Castle Air Force Base for its economic stability, however with the 1995 closure of the base, the city’s economy  increasingly relied on warehouses and distribution centers, packaging facilities, and residential construction. Most recently the newest campus of the University of California was established at Merced.  The population increased by 80% between 1984 and 2008 (from 44,250 to 79,886),

The City of Atwater was incorporated in 1922 and was known for its agricultural heritage and Castle Air Force Base. When the base closed in 1995, the population declined by 2,400 over a two-year period. Since then, Castle has undergone redevelopment that includes the Atwater Federal Penitentiary, and population rebounded.  In total, the population increased by 44% (from 18,900 to 27,317) during FMMP's history. 

California Department of Finance  |  Merced County  | City of Merced  |  City of Atwater  |  Merced Chamber of Commerce