This fall, the UC Agricultural Issues Center (AIC) will survey farmers who are involved in farmland conservation programs to find out what they think of a variety of programs that compensate landowners to keep their properties in agriculture.

The study, Conservation Options for California Farmland Owners, will query about 700 agricultural landowners in six counties — Colusa, Glenn, Kings, Madera, Monterey and San Joaquin.

Researchers will send questionnaires in late October and November to participants in the Williamson Act, the Farmland Security Zone program and those that have sold conservation easements. Respondents will be invited to participate in follow-up focus group sessions.

“Compensating agricultural landowners to keep them farming is an increasingly popular way to avoid the conversion of farmland to urban use,” says AIC associate director for rural-urban studies and UC Cooperative Extension public policy specialist Al Sokolow.

Sokolow said the survey results will be presented at an April 2003 conference and through other programs and written reports. The conference will explore the variety of compensation methods — from tax breaks to cash payouts.

“Three issues are of particular importance,” Sokolow said. “How long the conservation programs run, what is the level of payment and, if you compensate a landowner to forego development, should you expect something from the landowner in terms of how the farm is run?”