Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Agricultural Plan Poses Challenge

Agricultural Plan Poses Challenge
By Barry Eberling | DAILY REPUBLIC | January 15, 2008

FAIRFIELD - Solano County is looking at ways to boost farming for decades to come, including streamlining regulations, preserving fertile areas and trying to attract more processing plants.

But coming up with the perfect plan is a challenge. For example, Dixon officials question the proposed creation of a 689-acre industrial area for agricultural processing plants on their city's northeast border.

'We're looking for some type of coordination between county and city,' Dixon City Councilman Michael Smith told the county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

Supervisors met to review a proposed agricultural section for the General Plan. The new General Plan will set county policies for the coming 20 years. The board could pass a final version in July.

Solano County's farms play a major role in the local economy by generating about $370 million annually, counting both commodity sales and related activities. Farms help preserve a rural character and open spaces between cities.

One proposed policy is to attract agricultural processing plants. One of the few large plants the county has now is the Campbell plant in Dixon that processes locally grown tomatoes.

Existing county policy calls for most development to take place within cities, in part to protect farmland. A revised General Plan could make new exceptions, among them the 689 acres adjacent to Dixon to be used for agricultural-related industries.

Dixon officials wonder why some of that development could not take place within the city, Smith said. Also, Dixon plans to grow to the south, not to the north, he said.

Supervisor Mike Reagan said after the meeting that if cities can attract agricultural processing plants, that is fine. But no new plants have come, he said. And some types of processing plants might be undesirable in cities, he said.

'We can't leave it to chance,' Reagan said.

A key part of the proposed General Plan revisions is to treat farming differently in different parts of the county. There would be nine agricultural regions: Suisun and Green valleys; Dixon Ridge; Winters; Montezuma Hills; Elmira and Maine Prairie; the Pleasants, Vaca and Lagoon valleys; Jepson Prairie; Ryer Island; and the western hills. Each would have a strategic plan developed with the farmers there.

Another idea is to require people who develop farmland to preserve farmland elsewhere. Supervisor Jim Spering sees such a policy as being stringent in the more fertile areas, while areas with marginal soils would have more flexibility.

'I think this relieves pressure off the prime ag land,' he said.

The county could also have a farmland conservancy program to buy development rights from willing sellers.

Rancher Don Pippo criticized the existing, 23-year-old county law that funnels most development from rural areas and into cities. What's happened is tax-generating development has gone to cities. That has hurt the county's special districts, he told supervisors.

Several rural fire officials have in the past said that lack of tax revenue has left their districts in dire financial shape.

Pleasants Valley farmer Barbara Comfort criticized a proposal to have a minimum 20-acre parcel size there. That would allow more rural-residential development, she said. Supervisors ultimately leaned toward letting the existing mixture of 20-acre and 40-acre minimum parcel sizes remain.

Reach Barry Eberling at 425-4646, Ext. 232, or at

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