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Last Updated: Friday, February 3, 2012 9:03 AM

Chapter 23 - Farmlands

WHAT DOES THIS TOPIC INCLUDE?

This chapter is an overview identifying potential impacts to agricultural lands associated with proposed transportation projects. Information is provided that defines the different types of farmlands and the procedures necessary to evaluate them. Relevant California farmland policies are also discussed as well as identification of the agencies responsible for those policies.

DEFINITIONS OF FARMLANDS

Farmland of Local Importance - Farmland of Local Importance is either currently producing crops, or has the capability of production. Farmland of Local Importance is land other than Prime Farmland, Farmland of Statewide Importance, or Unique Farmland. This land may be important to the local economy due to its productivity. It does not include publicly owned lands for which there is an adopted policy preventing agricultural use. [Excerpted from the California Department of Conservation’s Office of Land Conservation, A Guide to the Farmland Mapping and Monitoring Program, 1992. Publication Number FM-92-01.]

Farmland of Statewide Importance - Farmland of Statewide Importance is land other than Prime Farmland which has a good combination of physical and chemical characteristics for the production of crops. It must have been used for the production of irrigated crops within the last three years. It does not include publicly owned lands for which there is an adopted policy preventing agricultural use. [Excerpted from the California Department of Conservation’s Office of Land Conservation, A Guide to the Farmland Mapping and Monitoring Program, 1992. Publication Number FM-92-01.]

Grazing Land - Grazing Land is land on which the existing vegetation, whether grown naturally or through management, is suitable for grazing or browsing of livestock. The minimum mapping unit for Grazing Land is 40 acres. [Excerpted from the California Department of Conservation’s Office of Land Conservation, A Guide to the Farmland Mapping and Monitoring Program, 1992. Publication Number FM-92-01.]

Prime Farmland - Prime Farmland is land which has the best combination of physical and chemical characteristics for the production of crops. It has the soil quality, growing season and moisture supply needed to produce sustained high yields of crops when treated and managed, including water management, according to current farming methods. Prime Farmland must have been used for the production of irrigated crops at some time during the two update cycles prior to the mapping date. It does not include publicly owned lands for which there is an adopted policy preventing agricultural use. [Excerpted from the California Department of Conservation’s Office of Land Conservation, A Guide to the Farmland Mapping and Monitoring Program, 1992. Publication Number FM-92-01.]

Unique Farmland - Unique Farmland is land which does not meet the criteria for Prime Farmland or Farmland of Statewide Importance, that is currently used for the production of specific high economic value crops (as listed in the last three years of California Agriculture produced by the California Department of Food and Agriculture). It has the special combination of soil quality, location, growing season and moisture supply needed to produce sustained high quality or high yields of a specific crop when treated and managed according to current farming methods. Examples of such crops may include oranges, olives, avocados, rice, grapes, and cut flowers. It does not include publicly owned lands for which there is an adopted policy preventing agriculture use. [Excerpted from the California Department of Conservation’s Office of Land Conservation, A Guide to the Farmland Mapping and Monitoring Program, 1992. Publication Number FM-92-01.]

Urban and Built-up Land - Urban and Built-Up Land is used for residential, industrial, commercial, construction, institutional, public administrative process, railroad yards, cemeteries, airports, golf courses, sanitary landfills, sewage treatment plants, water control structures, and other development purposes. Highways, railroads, and other transportation facilities are mapped as a part of Urban and Built-up Land, even though they are associated with agriculture.

Urban and built-up Land does not include strip mines, borrow pits, gravel pits, farmsteads, ranch headquarters, commercial feedlots, greenhouses, poultry facilities, and road systems for freeway interchanges outside of areas classified as Urban and Built-up Land areas. These lands are considered Other Lands. [Excerpted from the California Department of Conservation’s Office of Land Conservation, A Guide to the Farmland Mapping and Monitoring Program, 1992. Publication Number FM-92-01.)

The following designations pertain to Williamson Act Contract lands:

Agricultural Preserve - Agriculture Preserve means an area devoted to either agricultural use, as defined in subdivision (b), recreational use as defined in subdivision (n), or open space use as defined in subdivision (o), or any combination of such uses and which is established in accordance with the provisions of this chapter. [From: California Government Code Section 51201 (d) (The Williamson Act)]

Prime Agricultural Farmland - Prime Agricultural Farmland means any of the following:

(1) all land which qualifies for rating as class I or class II in the Natural Resource Conservation Service land use capability classifications.

(2) land which qualifies for rating 80 through 100 in the Storie Index Rating.

(3) land which supports livestock used for the production of food and fiber and which has an annual carrying capacity equivalent to at least one animal unit per acre as defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

(4) land planted with fruit- or nut-bearing trees, vines, bushes or crops which have a nonbearing period of less than five years and which will normally return during the commercial bearing period on an annual basis from the production of unprocessed agricultural plant production not less than two hundred dollars ($200) per acre.

(5) land which has returned from the production of unprocessed agricultural plant products an annual gross value of the previous five years.

[From: California Government Code Section 51201(c) (The Williamson Act)]

FARMLANDS DECISION TREE

WBS Code: 165.10.35 - Preparation of Farmland Study

LAWS, REGULATIONS AND GUIDANCE

- See also Chapter 1 - Federal Requirements and Chapter 2 - State Requirements

Policy Memos

INTERAGENCY COORDINATION

Except in cases where it is obvious there is no farmland, the Caltrans District Environmental Branch submits Form AD-1006 to the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) office which handles that particular county and requests that a determination as to whether the project location has farmland that is subject to the Farmland Protection Policy Act.

Local agencies should coordinate with Caltrans District Environmental staff on the submission of this form for their projects, as Caltrans.

Government Code Section 51291(b) requires an agency to notify the Director of the California Department of Conservation and the planning department of the local governing body responsible for the administration of the preserve of Williamson Act contracted land proposed for acquisition for a public improvement project (regardless of whether it is a state or federally funded project, or the amount of total acreage involved). For more information, see Caltrans Environmental Handbook, Volume 4, Community Impact Assessment.

It may be necessary or useful to coordinate with the California Department of Conservation, Office of Land Conservation, and County Agricultural Commission for mapping and data collection. See Caltrans Environmental Handbook, Volume 4 (Farmland Data Sources).

Early Coordination Meeting

  • Does the project area contain farmlands?
  • Will the project convert or affect any farmland?
  • Is the farmland considered “prime?”
  • How much farm land will be converted?
  • Will any agricultural parcels be bisected, rendering the parcel not viable for agricultural uses?
  • What is the percentage of the county’s total prime farmland that will be lost or affected by the proposed project?
  • Are there alternatives that will reduce or avoid impacts on farmlands?

Please refer to the Caltrans Environmental Handbook, Volume 4: Community Impact Assessment.

REPORTING

Determining the Need for a Separate Technical Report

No technical reports are mandated by state or federal law concerning farmlands. However, it may be appropriate to prepare a separate Community Impact Assessment report or background study if any farmland will be affected by the proposed project.

To determine if farmland exists in the project area, and for the collection of data regarding such farmlands, it may be useful to coordinate with the California Department of Conservation, Office of Land Conservation and the County Agricultural Commission. See Caltrans Environmental Handbook, Volume 4 (Farmland Data Sources) for more information.

If farmlands will be disrupted by the proposed project, Form AD 1006 must be completed by Caltrans. The results determine if mitigation will be required. Keep in mind that there are no set acreage thresholds below which coordination through use of Form AD 1006 would not be required.

The Land Evaluation and Site Assessment (LESA), originally developed by the NRCS, is a useful tool for quantifying the merits of retaining, in agricultural use, parcels proposed for conversion.

Preparer Qualifications

Data collection and analysis for farmland impacts can be carried out by persons without specialized training, although prior experience and an educational background in geography, social ecology, economics, sociology, or regional planning may be very helpful, particularly in complex situations.

Recommended Methodologies

Refer to the Caltrans Environmental Handbook, Volume 4, Chapter 4 for further guidance on how to fill out the Form AD 1006.

Content and Recommended Format

Refer to the Caltrans Environmental Handbook, Volume 4, Chapter 4 for further guidance on how to fill out the Form AD 1006.

Processing and Approval

The Community Impact Assessment should be reviewed by the Caltrans District Environmental coordinator, summarized in Environmental Document, included with all other technical reports for the project, and a copy retained in project files.

Local Agencies: Processing of technical reports for PCE’s is covered in the Local Assistance Procedures Manual, Chapter 6, Section 6.7, Step 14. Regular CE’s are covered in Step 19.

When technical studies indicate that the project does not support a CE or a PCE, the local agency should refer to SER Chapter 35 or 36 for detailed instructions on preparing and processing an EA or an EIS.

TIMING THE STUDIES WITH THE ENVIRONMENTAL PROCESS

Farmlands analysis should be conducted during the planning stage of a project:

  • Prior to the draft environmental document and
  • Prior to any route selection or acquisition activities.

INFORMATION NEEDED FOR PROJECT DELIVERY

Regional Transportation Plan

This information should be documented in the Environmental Impact Report prepared for the Regional Transportation Plan and serve as a building block in subsequent decision making.

A Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) requires the preparation of a CEQA environmental document, normally a program or master Environmental Impact Report. Caltrans encourages the MPO/RTPAs to include the following information, as appropriate, in the environmental document for the plan:

  • Identification of agricultural lands in the corridor or study area.

Project Initiation Document

This information should be included in the Preliminary Environmental Analysis Report (PEAR) prepared as part of the Project Initiation Document (PID).

The “Guidelines for the Preparation of Project Study Reports” dated November 3, 1999 stipulate that PSRs and project study report equivalents contain an “inventory of environmental resources, identification of potential environmental issues and anticipated environmental processing type. Potential mitigation requirements and associated costs should also be identified.

For projects off the State Highway System, complete the Preliminary Environmental Assessment (PES) form. The information required for the PES satisfies the environmental requirement for the PSR equivalent.

For projects on the State Highway System, the following level of information is recommended to fulfill the requirements of the guidelines:

  • Verification of all information from RTP stage and:
  • Identification of prime or unique farmland and Williamson Act contract lands in the project area.

Draft Project Report

This information should be presented in the Draft Environmental Document or used as supporting documentation for a Categorical Exemption, as appropriate.

  • Verification of all information from RTP stage & PID stage and:
  • Identification of impacts on agricultural lands and on prime or unique farmland in the project area;
  • Form AD-1006 evaluation, if appropriate;
  • Evidence of coordination with USDA and/or California Department of Conservation, as appropriate;
  • Identification of possible mitigation measures for significant impacts.

Project Report

This information should be presented in the Final Environmental Document.

  • Proposed mitigation measures
  • Total number of acres of farmland by type that will be converted to a different use or impacted by the project.

PERMITS REQUIRED

The conversion of farmland requires approval of the U.S. Natural Resource Conservation Service. No permits are required.