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NR 2002-12
March 17, 2002

Contact: Carol Dahmen
Mark Oldfield
Don Drysdale
Ed Wilson
(916) 323-1886

DEPARTMENT OF CONSERVATION CELEBRATES
NATIONAL AGRICULTURAL WEEK BY PROTECTING FARMLAND

SACRAMENTO – Noting their importance to the state, nation and world, the California Department of Conservation saluted the state’s farmers and ranchers as National Agriculture Week kicked off Sunday.

DOC works with local governments, landowners and non-profit organizations to ensure California’s continued agricultural production.

National Agriculture Week – started in 1973 by the Agricultural Council of America (www.agday.org) -- runs through March 23. National Agriculture Day is celebrated on the first day of spring each year (Wednesday).

“It has often been said that if California was a nation, it would have one of the world’s largest economies,” DOC Director Darryl Young said. “What people may not realize is that agriculture is a huge part of that. California’s total agricultural production is about $29 billion. Our farmers and ranchers help feed the state, the nation and the world. Simply put, California literally feeds the economy and the people who fuel it. Our department works to keep some of the world’s best farmland in production even as the state works to meet the needs of a growing population.”

Through DOC’s Division of Land Resource Protection, the state offers three programs that provide financial incentives to keep land in agricultural use.

The California Farmland Conservancy Program makes grants available to local governments, land trusts and Resource Conservation Districts to purchase permanent agricultural conservation easements from willing landowners. During the past year, the CFCP has committed $7.7 million to creating easements on the state’s best farmland. More than 1,200 acres of prime farmland have been permanently protected, while projects covering another 5,600 acres are nearing completion. The CFCP last year provided more than $70,000 in planning grants to nonprofit organizations that provide support to agricultural land trusts across the state.

The Division of Land Resource Protection also administers the Williamson Act and Farmland Security Zone program. Landowners who commit to keeping their land in agricultural use for periods of 10 years under the Williamson Act or 20 years under the FSZ program can receive tax benefits. More than 16.5 million of California’s 30 million acres of agricultural land are enrolled in the Williamson Act. Of California’s 58 counties, 53 have adopted the Williamson Act program – most recently Modoc County in 2001. More than half a million acres are enrolled in the FSZ program, which is offered in 21 counties.

DOC’s Division of Land Resource Protection also works with and supports the state’s 103 Resource Conservation Districts. RCDs are locally governed agencies set up as special districts under California law with their own locally appointed or elected

boards of directors. RCDs are authorized to undertake projects such as agricultural land conservation, watershed planning and management, recreational land restoration, irrigation management, forest stewardship, wildlife habitat enhancement and conservation education. DOC issues $120,000 to RCDs annually in a competitive grant program.

The Farmland Mapping and Monitoring Program will release its biennial California Farmland Conversion Report this summer. This program tracks land use change on 90 percent of the privately held land in the state (44.5 million acres), producing maps that help local governments evaluate land-use planning decisions. Between 1984 and 1998, the FMMP documented new urban development on more than 575,000 acres, an area larger in size than Alameda County.

"National Agriculture Week is the time to reflect on how fortunate we are to have such a productive and efficient agricultural system in California and the nation," said Erik Vink, head of DOC’s Division of Land Resource Protection. "It takes an incredible amount of work to get food from field to table. We’re proud to be assisting landowners in protecting the farmland that feeds America."

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