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NR 2004-15
May 21, 2004

Contact: Anita Gore
Ed Wilson
Mark Oldfield
Don Drysdale
(916) 323-1886

KERN COUNTY GAINS URBAN LAND, LOSES FARMLAND

SACRAMENTO -- The amount of farmland in Kern County decreased by a small amount in recent years relative to the increase of urbanized land, according to a new map released by the California Department of Conservation.

Urban land increased by 6,265 acres, mostly from nonagricultural categories, during the 2000-2002 period. Both irrigated and non-irrigated farmland declined, with more than 1,000 acres downgraded to grazing land.

The Farmland Mapping and Monitoring Program (FMMP), part of DOC's Division of Land Resource Protection, documents land-use conversion on 45.8 million acres of California’s private and public land every two years. The maps and statistics are designed to help local governments evaluate land-use planning decisions. The 2002 analysis is nearly complete statewide, while 2004 mapping is getting underway.

“This information helps counties and cities see the patterns and make informed choices about how they want to direct growth in the future,” Department of Conservation Director Darryl Young said. “The population of California will continue to grow, and it’s vital that we ensure there’s enough room for people and agriculture.”

The Farmland Mapping and Monitoring Program surveyed more than 5.2 million acres in Kern County, classifying land as either farmland (prime being the best of four subcategories), grazing land, urban land, other land or water. The “other” category includes low-density "ranchettes," wetlands, and brush or timberlands unsuitable for grazing. The bulk of the new urban land in the county was previously classified as “other” land.

The most notable example of irrigated farmland being urbanized in Kern County was the Seven Oaks Country Club area, which added 250 acres of development with new homes and an expanded golf course. Hundreds of acres of farmland in the western part of the county were reclassified from irrigated farmland to grazing land due to being idled for six or more years.

Since the 1990 FMMP survey, urban land in the county has increased by 29,202 acres and irrigated farmland decreased by 76,318 acres. Forty percent of the irrigated land decreases affected prime soils. In addition to urbanization, land idling in western Kern County accounted for much of the decline in irrigated agricultural land. Urbanization in 2000-2002 was somewhat higher than normal due to the availability of detailed digital photography in the high desert areas.

Kern County’s agricultural land will continue to face development pressure in the foreseeable future. The California Department of Finance projects that the county’s population will increase from about 678,500 in 2000 to nearly 1.1 million in 2020.

According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, the gross value of Kern County’s agricultural production was nearly $2.6 billion in 2002. Only Fresno, Tulare and Monterey counties have larger agricultural economies.

The maps have been sent to county planning officials and organizations such as the county Farm Bureau, Local Agency Formation Commission, city planners, irrigation districts and county resource conservation districts. Printed copies, enlargements, or digital versions of the maps are available to the public. Call (916) 324-0859 or email fmmp@consrv.ca.gov for more information.

The latest statewide study by the FMMP, Farmland Conversion Report 1998-2000, was released last June. More than 91,000 acres were urbanized throughout the state – a 30-percent increase from the 1996-98 mapping cycle – and 27 percent of that total came from irrigated farmland.

Through the Department of Conservation, the state offers programs that provide financial incentives to keep land in agricultural use.

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