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Last Updated: Tuesday, December 16, 2014 1:43 PM

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

Farmland Definitions

The following definitions are excerpted from the California Department of Conservationís Division of Land Resource Protection, A Guide to the Farmland Mapping and Monitoring Program, 2004 Edition, Appendix B, available online at: http://www.conservation.ca.gov/dlrp/fmmp/Documents/fmmp_guide_2004.pdf.

Farmland of Local Importance - Farmland of Local Importance is either currently producing crops, has the capability of production, or is used for the production of confined livestock. 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 or value. It does not include publicly owned lands for which there is an adopted policy preventing agricultural use.

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 irrigated agricultural production at some time during the four years prior to the mapping date. It does not include publicly owned lands for which there is an adopted policy preventing agricultural use.

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. Grazing Land does not include land previously designated as Prime Farmland, Farmland of Statewide Importance, Unique Farmland, or Farmland of Local Importance. It also does not include heavily brushed, timbered, excessively steep, or rocky lands which restrict the access and movement of livestock, rural residential land, or publicly owned lands for which there is an adopted policy preventing agricultural use

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 irrigated agricultural production at some time during the four years prior to the mapping date. It does not include publicly owned lands for which there is an adopted policy preventing agricultural use.

Unique Farmland - Unique Farmland is land which does not meet the criteria for Prime Farmland or Farmland of Statewide Importance, that has been used for the production of specific high economic value crops at some time during the four years prior to the mapping date. It has the special combination of soil quality, location, growing season, and moisture supply needed to produce sustained high quality and/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.

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 if they are a part of the surrounding urban areas.

Units of land smaller than 10 acres will be incorporated into the surrounding map classifications. The building density for residential use must be at least 1 structure per 1.5 acres (or approximately 6 structures per 10 acres). Urban and Built-up Land must contain man-made structures or buildings under construction, and the infrastructure required for development (e.g., paved roads, sewers, water, electricity, drainage, or flood control facilities) that are specifically designed to serve that land.  Parking lots, storage and distribution facilities, and industrial uses such as large packing operations for agricultural produce will generally be mapped as Urban and Built-up Land even though they may be 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.

The following definitions are from the California Land Conservation Act of 1965 ("Williamson Act")

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.

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 not less than two hundred dollars ($200) per acre for three of the previous five years.

FARMLANDS DECISION TREE

Click here to enlarge image.

LAWS, REGULATIONS, AND GUIDANCE

- See also SER Vol. 1, Chapter 1, "Federal Requirements" and Chapter 2, "State Requirements."

Policy Memos

INTERAGENCY COORDINATION

The purpose of the Farmland Protection Policy Act is to minimize the extent to which federal programs contribute to the un-necessary and irreversible conversion of farmland to non-agricultural uses. In cases where it is obvious that no farmland is present or when the score in Part VI of Form CPA-106 or Form AD-1006 is less than 60 points for each alternative, the Form CPA-106 or Form AD-1006 need not be submitted to Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS). In these cases, the completed form should be retained in the project file and the environmental document should summarize the steps taken to identify and evaluate farmland impacts. When the score in Part VI of Form CPA-106 or Form AD-1006 exceeds 60 points, the Caltrans District Environmental Branch submits the appropriate form to the 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. Form CPA-106 is used for corridor (linear) type projects and Form AD-1006 is used for non-corridor type projects.

Local agencies should coordinate with Caltrans District Environmental staff on the submission of these forms for their projects.

According to California Government Code Section 51291(b), the California Department of Conservation must be notified when there is a need for a public agency or other eligible entity to acquire land enrolled in a Williamson Act contract, or located in an agricultural preserve.  Specific information must accompany the notification to ensure that the requirements of Government Code are met.  For more information, see Caltrans Environmental Handbook, Volume 4, Community Impact Assessment.  Additional information, including a notification form template and an example notification letter can be found on the Department of Conservation's Public Acquisitions web page.

It may be necessary or useful to coordinate with the California Department of Conservation, Division of Land Resource Protection, 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, CPA-106 (corridor type projects) or Form AD 1006 (non-corridor type projects) must be completed by Caltrans. The results determine if the consideration of additional project alternatives will 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 appropriate NRCS form.

Content and Recommended Format

Refer to the Caltrans Environmental Handbook, Volume 4, Chapter 4 for further guidance on how to fill out the appropriate NRCS form.

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: Information on the processing and approval of technical reports can be found in Chapter 6 of the Local Assistance Procedures Manual.

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 (EIR) prepared for the Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) and serve as a building block in subsequent decision making.

An RTP requires the preparation of a CEQA environmental document, normally a program or master EIR. 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/Exclusion, 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 CPA-106 or AD-1006, 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.

 

(Last content update: 12/03/14: JH)