As a land of fertile soil, gorgeous weather and ideal terrain, California feeds our nation and the world.
The state boasts more than 400 crops, which produce 46% of America’s fruits and nuts, 51% of the country’s citrus, 85% of its grapes and 99% of the nation’s almonds, artichokes, garlic and walnuts — just to name a few. The warmth of our Mediterranean climate and expansive lush grasses also offer prime grazing land for cattle, ranking dairy and beef high on our list of exports as well. Our top customers include the European Union, Canada, China/Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, India, Vietnam, United Arab Emirates and Taiwan. In a 2018 report published by the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), California reaped $21.02 billion in agricultural export value from 2008 to 2018.
When it comes to producing food, the Golden State is a proverbial Eden.
But every year, 40,000 to 50,000 acres of farm and ranch land are lost to development. The CDFA published a report compiled by American Farmland Trust California Director Edward Thompson Jr., in which he states, “The underlying causes of farmland loss in California are rapid population growth and the inefficient use of land.”
In Alameda County alone, from 1984 to 2016, more than 16,000 acres of ranchland were lost to development, according to the California Department of Conservation. The reported average loss during that period is 508 acres a year.
Anyone who’s lived in the area long enough has watched this change; many will tell you it’s why they left. Where once were scenic lush hillsides and pastures of green, development sprawls. It would seem we’ve poured concrete into our corner of paradise.
Of course, we’ve also seen the growth of culture and arts, alongside improved public facilities. But as bedroom communities, we’ve paid for it with endless commuter traffic and overcrowded, underfunded schools. The cost of residences has risen; affordable housing is insufficient. To preserve this beautiful region, we need to protect our urban growth boundary and ensure housing remains available within those lines, rather than extending beyond them.
Nonprofit agencies like the California Rangeland Trust (CRT) and the California Farmland Trust are working hard to spread a message of conservation and smart, sustainable growth. Both organizations work with farm and ranch owners to protect land by offering conservation easements. CRT has already helped to preserve Koopmann Ranch in Sunol, as an example. A special thank-you to these groups for starting the conversation, educating those who will listen and raising community funds to support open space.
“What level of farmland loss is acceptable – or what level of farmland conservation is necessary – to guarantee a land base that will sustain the California agriculture industry in the face of other pressures and uncertainties?” Thompson continued. “Are state and local farmland conservation policies strong enough to limit the loss to this level?”
Let’s be sure that we are doing our part to protect our agricultural land and rangeland in the Tri-Valley.