The Hughson City Council took a giant step toward farmland preservation on Jan. 28 with the adoption of a Farmland Preservation Program. The program requires that any land converted to residential use in Hughson will preserve two acres of farmland in perpetuity for every acre converted.
We will accomplish this by using voluntary conservation easements to protect the land, or by other approved means.
Unlike many other cities within Stanislaus County, Hughson is completely surrounded by prime farmland: "prime" being the highest rating for soils as determined by the California Department of Conservation. Prime farmland, as well as our unique climate, can support the cultivation of more than 215 different types of crops. In comparison, nearby foothills land can support only about six different crops.
Farmland to be preserved under the FPP is required to be farmland rated prime and is to have an available water supply, also guaranteed within the easement.
There are three main reasons protecting prime farmland in Stanislaus County is important to Hughson.
Economic development principles encourage industrial "clustering" to enable interrelated industries to take better advantage of support services, specialized infrastructure and the relationships between suppliers and end producers.
The value of the Stanislaus County's agricultural crop in 2011 was more than $3 billion. Agricultural is a vital industrial cluster in this county and in Hughson. The agricultural industrial cluster in Hughson includes business such as Hughson Nut, Bella Viva Orchards, Duarte Nursery, Growers Direct Nut Co., Valley Tool, Braden Farms, California Grown Nut, Grossi Manufacturing, Mid Valley Nut, Hughson Chemical, Resendiz Farms, California Apiaries, Mid-Valley Ag, Dairy Farmers of America and the list goes on.
Prime farmland is a precious and finite resource. Other agricultural counties in California have chosen to forsake their good soils and urbanize instead.
Both Santa Clara and Los Angeles counties, once thriving agricultural centers, have traded agriculture lands for high-rises and freeways. The state Legislature has declared "that the preservation of land in its natural, scenic, agricultural, historical, forested, or open-space condition is among the most important environmental assets of California."
Conservation of farmland is therefore one California's highest priorities.
Agriculture is part of our culture. It makes us who we are and differentiates us from the urban centers along the coast. The way we live our lives revolves around agriculture, from our myriad Mexican food restaurants to our penchant for driving pickups. Future Farmers of America programs thrive in our schools. Fertilizers start to smell good. Farmers are our political leaders. Our festivals celebrate fruits.
Farm preservation efforts got a good start with the adoption of Stanislaus County's Ag Land Mitigation Program in 2007. That program requires conservation easements at a minimum 1-to-1 ratio. Then in 2012, the Stanislaus Local Agency Formation Commission adopted a policy for annexation requests that make cities preserve farmland on a minimum ratio of 1-to-1 as well. Hughson's FPP preserves land on a 2-to-1 ratio.
If all the cities in the county develop easement programs at the suggested 1-to-1 ratio, we would preserve only half of the farmland in the county. We, as a society, need to do better. The Hughson City Council has done better. The council has announced its leadership in protecting farmland in the Central Valley.
It is a giant step.
Clark is the community development director of Hughson.