Sustaining the Economic and Environmental Viability of Local Agriculture
Up to the mid-1900s, the Santa Clara Valley was one of the most productive farming regions in the entire nation. The legendary Valley of Heart’s Delight produced cherries, apricots, and prunes that were processed and shipped all over the country, meeting about a third of the nation’s agricultural demands. But since the 1950s, urban development and sprawl have claimed many of the Valley’s orchards and fields, with farmland declining in the County by 45% in the last 20 years. Of the remaining 27,000 acres of farmland, approximately half is considered at risk of development over the next 30 years (Greenbelt Alliance 2012).
Half of the Santa Clara County’s land remains in rangelands and productive farmlands, producing almost 40 different crops including fruits, vegetables, and livestock products. In 2012, agriculture from the Santa Clara County had a direct gross value of nearly $261 million, an increase of 5% from 2011 (Santa Clara County 2012) and provided nearly 5,000 on-farm and related agricultural sector jobs (Scheer 2014). The region’s rangelands generated over $6 million for the local economy in 2012 through livestock grazing, also contributing to our region’s quality of life.
Agriculture in the Santa Clara County faces many challenges such as changes in the economics of ranching, skyrocketing land values, and development pressures put on local farmers and ranchers. Obstacles such as changing regulations, various permit regulations, an aging farming population, and marginal profitability also contribute to the struggling agricultural infrastructure. Unique to California, an increase in traditionally low water rates and the number of small, disconnected agricultural parcels pose additional challenges to the County’s working lands.
The Open Space Authority works to identify and preserve the County’s most important farmland and rangeland by collaborating with farmers, ranchers, agricultural organizations, natural resource agencies, and local, regional and state initiatives.