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Hughson commits to farmland preservation
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The City of Hughson has paved the way to be a county leader in agricultural preservation. The City Council solidified this intention by adopting the Farmland Preservation Program at its Jan. 28 meeting.

Community Development Director Thom Clark hopes that Hughson’s decision to preserve prime farmland would influence neighboring communities that also possess the finite resource to reconsider their options when planning urban developments.

The Farmland Preservation Program requires that for any one acre of land converted to residential use in Hughson, two will be preserved to ensure agricultural efficiency by utilizing voluntary conservation easements.

“There is only so much of this finite resource. Once it is gone, it is gone,” Clark said. “There are some programs out there, notably the County of Stanislaus that has a requirement when a zone changes from agriculture to some type of urban use that preserves farmland for every one acre used, one acre is saved. If everyone did that, we’d save half the farmland.”

Possessing prime farmland is important for sustaining a high yield of crops. Compared to the foothills, which only allows up to six cultivated crops, prime farmland throughout Stanislaus County can support more than 215 different types of crops, and posses the unique soil quality and moisture needed to sustain cultivation.

In 2011 alone, Stanislaus County’s agricultural crops were valued at more than $3 billion.

Though preventing all urban growth is impossible, sustaining it in an effective manner is manageable, said Clark/ In order to comply with its agreement, the City of Hughson discourages any premature conversions of prime land for urban use.

Clark cited Turlock as a model of success of urban development in his argument to preserve farmland.

“Turlock has chosen a very compact design for building. There are different ways to preserve farmland; to build up instead of out. Turlock has a whole lot of multi-family high rise going on, and they are putting a lot more people on less land, and are saving. I think Turlock’s done a great job. I have a lot of respect for Debbie Whitmore,” he said about Turlock’s planning manager.

Despite Turlock’s great strides to promote compact growth, Hughson’s preservation program hopes to explore the creation of an agricultural mitigation fee to generate revenue to use for the purchase of farmland and farmland conservation easements.

The easement locations must be located within the Stanislaus County in the A-2  zoning, and must be at least a half mile from any city’s sphere of influence.

As of now, Clark said the city is in the midst of signing a contract with the Central Valley Farmland Trust to work out a mutual agreement. The city hopes that the community partner would assist in determining the best use of collected fees and help the program flourish.

“We are really hoping that the rest of the county will start asking for conservation easements,” said Clark. “The city council here is committed to agriculture and farmland conservation and we want to be leaders.”