Recent budget cuts in California could threaten valuable farmland, as farmland protection programs see their operating budget shrink due to the state’s gloomy economic forecast. California has had a long history of protecting and preserving agricultural land. The Farmland Protection Policy Act of 1981 gave the California Secretary of Agriculture a mandate to minimize the impact of development on farmland, specifically seeking to limit the transformation of productive agricultural land into non-agricultural use. The Williamson Act of 1965 provided state funds and property tax credits to farmers who pledged to preserve farmland and forego development.
It is this act, officially known as the California Land Conservation Act, which is imperiled by the latest budget. Funding to the Williamson Act, and other California farm preservation programs, has typically averaged out to around $38 million a year. The most recent budget proposed by Governor Jerry Brown, cuts all funding to the Williamson Act. Without state support, many California counties are abandoning the program, eliminating tax credits and subsidies to farmers.
Without these credit and subsidies, many farmers argue that they cannot afford to stay in business. Some might go under, while others say they will be required to pass the higher operating costs onto consumers in the form of higher prices for produce. Environmental groups have joined farmers in criticizing the budget, saying that the Williamson Act prevents urban sprawl, protects endangered species, and helps reduce greenhouse gasses which could contribute to global warming.
While the final budget has yet to be approved, it seems unlikely that the Williamson Act will receive further funds.
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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer