The Farmland Monitoring Project

""Farmers should be able to own the land they farm, or at least have reliable access to it”"
- Organic farmer near Hollister, CA

Alternative food system advocates often argue that a "next generation of farmers" is needed to reverse the trend of an aging farmer population and re-orient the structure of agriculture from consolidated mega-farms to a revitalized rural landscape. If creating new farmers is a regional or even national goal, it follows that land use policy should facilitate the establishment of startup farm operations. However, for small scale and beginning farmers, access to quality and affordable farmland remains a major barrier to success.

Nationally, 40% of all farmland is rented out and 80% of those 353 million acres is managed by a non-farming landlord. In the three counties of Santa Cruz, Monterey, and San Benito which roughly comprise the agricultural region of the California Central Coast farming on renting land is common. Almost half of all farmland is rented out to tenant farmers, who lease farmland and operate on tight margins. Agricultural land is often valued by its potential large scale production value as well as potential residential value as wealthy buyers seek out “ranchettes” in rural areas near to urban areas. Furthermore, the history of property arrangements in California has created a dominant trend of large plots of agricultural land in which owners are less willing to break up into smaller rental lots. Beyond these structural barriers, competition for farmland is fierce.

Agribusiness companies, real estate agents, and increasingly institutional investment firms dedicate staff and resources for land identification and acquisition. One tool these actors use to seek out properties are commercial services that aggregate public data on land ownership, land quality, and other agricultural data. Farmview is participatory farmland monitoring project that combines the local knowledge of small scale farmers and public data to help explore the status of land access in the California Central Coast.

A wealth of information about land ownership and land access is available on the 'mapbook' page. These maps tell stories about farming in the central coast. The datasets provided are also easy to download or reference for future use. The goals of the project and the tools provided are to:


  1. 1. Help facilitate land linking by aggregating listings of potential farmland
  2. 2. Visualize the problems of land access for a variety of regional actors and policy argumentation

Resources on land access

Overcoming barriers to farmland access is much greater than finding suitable land. Beginning farmers must be able to create ag friendly lease arrangements, acquire start-up loans, secure markets, overcome language barriers, and negotiate with landowners who often do not have any agriculture experience. This requires a collaborative effort, and ultimately regional policies that support and incentivize the creation of successful start-up farms. Here are some regional resources that work with farmland access issues.

Farmlink

California Farmlink is a local non-profit CDFI (Community Development Financial Institution) linking small to mid-size farmers statewide to the land and financing they need for a sustainable future. FarmLink is the only organization of its kind dedicated to the economic development support for beginning, limited resource, immigrant, and underserved farmers in California

California Farmlink website

Farmlink's template for an agricultural lease

Support

The Farmland Monitoring Project is a transdisciplinary research initiative of UC Berkeley. Generous support comes from the Berkeley Food Institute, the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society, UC Cooperative Extension, and CartoDB. Oversight, feedback, and expertise come from the farmers and staff of the Agriculture and Land Based Training Association, and California Farmlink. Research guidance, mentoring, and technical assistance provided by colleagues at Represent.org