How Land Use Decisions Affect the Future of Agriculture
How the San Joaquin Valley grows will determine whether it remains California’s leading agricultural region, producing more than $20 billion worth of farm products annually. Between 1990 and 2004, 115,000 acres of farmland were developed in the Valley. If current development trends continue, the Valley will lose another 628,000 acres by 2050. There are several major ways in which the pattern of development affects agriculture:
- Development has a more detrimental impact on agriculture when it is located on farmland with more fertile soils and more reliable water supplies. Most San Joaquin Valley cities are located in the midst of this kind of land, generally along the Highway 99 corridor, so more than half of all development is taking place on the best farmland.  This places a premium on developing the land very efficiently.
- The more spread out development is – the less efficiently it is – the greater its impact on agriculture. In the San Joaquin Valley, development has been consuming an acre of land for every 9 new residents.  This is two or three times less efficient as development in other regions of California.
- Spread out development also tends to consume more water – mostly on landscaping – further straining irrigation water supplies on which agriculture relies.
- When city development plans are not clear or are changed too often, it tends to destabilize agriculture around cities, causing farmers to disinvest in their operations in the hope of selling out for development. Many cities in the San Joaquin Valley have “spheres of influence” – areas where they intend to grow – that include much more farmland than could be developed in two or three decades, even under the most optimistic growth assumptions.
- Rural residential development on large lots (often called “ranchettes”) consumes far more farmland per resident than any other kind of development. Located in the midst of productive agriculture, they also increase the risk of land use conflicts that can result in higher production costs and legal liability for farmers. In some San Joaquin Valley counties, ranchettes occupy a quarter of all the developed land while housing less than two percent of the population.
For more information, including statistics, about all these trends, see The Future Is Now (below).
Toward Effective Solutions
One the best ways to save our farmland is to increase the efficiency of development by revitalizing and rebuilding urban communities. “Infill” development accommodates growth without consuming any more farmland and also provides other public benefits such as less traffic congestion, better air quality, more open space and lower taxes.
The Future is Now: Central Valley Farmland at the Tipping Point? (American Farmland Trust)
 Paving Paradise: A New Perspective on California Farmland Conversion (2007)
 Farmland Mapping & Monitoring Program, CA Department of Conservation, 2008 and 2009.
 CA Department of Finance, Table 1, E-4, 2009; Farmland Mapping & Monitoring Program, CA Department of Conservation, 2008 and 2009.