From: Steve E. Swenson, The Bakersfield Californian
Published February 18, 2005 12:00 AM

Farmland Advocate Promotes Agricultural Easements

BAKERSFIELD, California — A local farmland advocate wants to gauge the community's interest in preserving farmland through voluntary agricultural easements.

An easement is paying money to farmers to keep their land in agriculture forever, or in some cases, 50 years or more, said Terrie Stoller of Bakersfield, who is coordinating the March 10 meeting.

One guest will be Holly King, agricultural program manager for the Modesto-based Great Valley Center, which has helped pay for easements in Merced, Stanislaus and Yolo counties.

King said the agency is spending $4.5 million to help set up some 15 easements on about 12,000 acres of farmland. Two easements have been concluded and the rest are in progress.

"The goal is to get enough critical mass so that farmers are farming next to farmers," she said.

Other funding sources include the California Farmland Conservancy Program and the federal Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program, she said.

The easement program in any area is administered and controlled by a land trust, which establishes criteria for a local program, Stoller said.

Members of a trust near Lodi in San Joaquin County are expected to attend the meeting, Stoller said.

Easements establish deed restrictions that ban nonfarm development on the property. The idea is to pay farmers for agreeing not to sell their land for development, Stoller said.

Farmland generally sells for $3,000 to $5,000 an acre, unless it has permanent crops such as almonds or citrus that increase the value to $10,000 to $20,000 an acre, Stoller said.

Developers sometimes offer up to $60,000 to $70,000 an acre for the same land, which provides pressure to convert the land to urban uses, she said.

Between 1990 and 2002, Kern lost more than 76,000 acres of farmland -- more than twice as much as any other county in the Central Valley, the California Department of Conservation reported.

"I think it's time to give farmers an option," Stoller said.

Stoller owns Sunridge Nursery and Stoller Farms with her family, is a director with the Kern County Farm Bureau and is a founding member of the Smart Growth Coalition of Kern County.

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