Partner Profile: American Farmland Trust

Posted on Wednesday, November 30th, 2016 by Brian Shobe


In 2015, California launched a trailblazing Sustainable Agricultural Lands Conservation Program (SALCP), the first program in the country that invests in farmland conservation for its climate benefits. By August 2016, SALCP had invested $42 million in farmland conservation, permanently protecting 33,000 acres of California crop and rangeland from urban sprawl and development. American Farmland Trust (AFT) was a vital partner to CalCAN in achieving these victories, lending its expertise and name recognition from its 35 years of leadership in farmland conservation. CalCAN continues to learn and benefit from AFT’s cutting-edge work and is grateful for their collaboration.

AFT’s mission is to “protect farmland, promote sound farming practices, and keep farmers on the land.”  They fulfill their mission by pioneering tools and techniques to help farmers and ranchers resist the pressure of development. As a result of their efforts over 35 years, today 27 states and many local municipalities have programs on the books to protect farmland. AFT’s work has helped to save more than five million acres of farm and ranch land and contributed to conservation improvements on millions more.

In addition to its obvious benefits to farmers and ecosystems, farmland conservation is an important GHG reduction strategy. UC Davis researchers found that one acre of urban land emitted 70 times more GHG emissions compared to an acre of irrigated cropland – a number which rises to 100 times more emissions when comparing urban land to rangeland. Sustainable farm management practices can further remove carbon from the atmosphere, thus enhancing the benefits of agricultural land conservation.

Airliner view of the Sacramento River, with Sacramento and Yolo Counties to the left and right, and the northern metropolitan area of Sacramento, CA, seen in the distance, on Wednesday, Apr. 15, 2015. USDA photo by Lance Cheung.
Aerial view of the Sacramento River and the Sacramento metropolitan area’s sprawling development into prime farmland. USDA photo by Lance Cheung.

California loses an average of 50,000 acres of farmland annually, making AFT’s efforts in the state critical to addressing the climate and agricultural crisis. In California, AFT has focused on preserving farmland in the San Joaquin Valley, California’s most productive agricultural region. AFT aims to cut the rate of conversion of farmland there by half. To achieve this, AFT is using a multi-pronged approach:

  • collecting data and building maps to document the lands, waters, and natural resources affected by farmland loss;
  • advocating for transit-oriented development, increased urban densities, and farmland mitigation policies in municipalities’ general plans;
  • building a coalition of local organizations to speak out on land use policy issues; and,
  • protecting farmland with conservation easements strategically located around cities.

In addition to its focus on farmland conservation and policies – like SALCP – that protect endangered farmland, AFT also produces case studies of farmers using innovative ecologically sustainable practices on their land, some of whom are CalCAN partners focused on climate-friendly approaches to farming and ranching. We will feature some of these case studies in future blogposts.

Stay Connected
Get newsletter and blog updates and action alerts from CalCAN