After much wrangling over how lost farmland could be used for other purposes — and what purposes they could be — growers who lose farmland should now have a chance to receive the help they need to use their land for other plans.
The end result is a bill that has passed the state legislature that keeps much of the provisions of the original bill and also contains $50 million to help farmers use lost farmland for other purposes.
Assembly bill 252 was originally authored by Assemblymen Robert Rivas, D-Salinas, and Rudy Salas, D-Bakersfield, to help farmers repurpose their lost farmland. But the bill died after numerous changes were made to it in the Senate Appropriations Committee. The Environmental Defense Fund also sponsored AB 252.
Among the changes were to force farmers to permanently repurpose their land so they would be unable to use the land for farming ever again. Incentive payments were also removed from the bill. Farmers obviously didn't like the idea of possibly never being able to use their land for farming again.
Another major change that didn't sit to well was repurposed land could only be used for wildlife habitat. AB 252 originally allowed for various uses including dryland farming and recreation. So AB 252 died on September 7. But language from AB 252 was added to Assembly Bill 170, a second budget bill.
AB 170 will still create a repurposing program through the Department of Conservation. Limitations imposed by the proposed changes to AB 252 have also been removed, so repurposed land can be used in various ways and won't have to be repurposed permanently, meaning farmers can eventually use that land again if they choose. The program still lacks details and rules for the program still need to be developed.
Under the requirements of the Sustainability Groundwater Management Act it's expected as much as a million acres of farmland in Central California will be lost. AB 252 originally established a program for that land to be used for other purposes.
Uses for the program established by AB 170 once all the details are ironed out could include groundwater recharge, biodiversity conservation, pollinator habitats, cattle grazing and other uses such as developing parks and recreation areas that are considered beneficial and would use less water.
Among the other projects lost farmland could be used for include restoring habitat for wildlife such as migratory birds and endangered species such as the Valley kit fox.
Those who support the idea of repurposing farmland say the land could also be used for wildlife-friendly groundwater recharge basins and to restore floodplains.
Those who support the idea of repurposing farmland say it's needed, otherwise the land will just become a patchwork of dusty fields full of weeds, which will make air quality worse.
While AB 170 initially provides $50 million, Governor Gavin Newsom has a $5.1 billion plan to address the drought and water infrastructure that includes $500 million for the repurposing of lost farmland.
AB 170 is on Newsom's desk and he's expected to sign the bill any day now.