I am a young cattle rancher who is very concerned about Californians losing their access to safe, healthy, abundant and affordable food if Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger once again cuts statewide funding for the Williamson Act, also known as the California Land Conservation Act.
I understand that the state of California — and the whole nation for that matter — is under serious economic distress, but cutting the desperately-needed funding for the Williamson Act will only make that economic distress worse.
The Williamson Act, created by legislation in 1965, provides property tax relief to farmers and ranchers who, like my own family, use their land to produce food and provide open space for all Californians and tourists to enjoy. Without the Williamson Act, a large portion of California farms and ranches would go out of business because farmers simply cannot afford to pay property tax on hundreds or thousands of acres at a development or commercial rate.
My family, which loves the land and the animals we raise, would very likely have to find another line of work if the Williamson Act is lost. If my family has to give in to the economic pressure to sell our land to developers rather than continue ranching, I will not be able to afford land in this state to ranch on. I am just one of many future farmers that would have to leave the state or find an office job.
California farmers and ranchers produce more than half of the nation’s fruits, nuts and vegetables, and generate more than $30 billion each year for our state. Agriculture is a major employer and revenue generator in the state and accounts for 1.1 million jobs and more than $60 billion in personal income. Nearly 70 percent of the agriculture land in California is protected and preserved under this act. If Williamson Act funding is again cut by the governor, and some of this land was no longer used for food production, approximately 5 million acres would be abandoned or developed.
California farmers and ranchers take good care of the land, which is also home to many species of plants and wildlife. Just think of the domino effect losing the Land Conservation Act would have. When farmers and ranchers go out of business, there will be less food produced, causing the price of all food to rise, and the vacant farmland will be more prone to problems such as wildfire. Or worse, if the vacant land got developed, there would be more mouths to feed in a state where less food would be produced.
The Land Conservation Act is a program that really pays for itself, in terms of what agriculture gives to this state. At full funding, the act requires approximately $38 million dollars to operate. This number seems large but is just a drop in the bucket compared to the state’s $95 billion budget. Nevertheless, Gov. Schwarzenegger has cut funding for the Williamson Act two years in a row.
If the governor does not remember us when he releases his budget revise early in May, your dinner plates may not be the same in the future.
Kody Kester is a third-year agribusiness student at Cal Poly and a fifth-generation cattle rancher from Parkfield.