As city leaders and landowners prepare to sit down and discuss ways to keep a greenbelt between Stockton and Lodi, some have suggested preserving agricultural land in that area through a farmland trust.
Such trusts, which preserve farmland through publicly funded agricultural conservation easements, are a "fairly common approach" to conservation that both protects the land and compensates owners, said Ed Thompson, director of the California office of the American Farmland Trust.
About $2.5 billion has been invested to preserve roughly 1.4 billion acres of farmland in 26 states, Thompson said.
But gaining such easements is not without its difficulties, he said.
While the most obvious challenge is obtaining money to buy the easements and finding an appropriate price, the process comes with a host of other concerns that can weigh on its success or failure, Thompson said.
AFT officials have found that uncertain plans for land use contained in governments' general plans can affect a seller's willingness, Thompson said.
Unless local governments clearly delineate the difference between agricultural and urban lands, rural landowners can shy away from selling their land.
"Many will hold out hope that maybe things will change and we will be able to develop this land," Thompson said.
None of the conservation easement programs pay landowners what they would receive if the land was developed, he said.
Kurt Kautz, whose family owns about 400 acres between Eight Mile Road and Harney Lane, said he and a few others are looking at what price they would want for their land if they were to sell it.
"There's a lot of ideas out there," Kautz said.
Some landowners don't want their land designated as a greenbelt.
"Basically, that is taking away our value," Kautz said. "The ironic part is that doesn't benefit any of the landowners in the area, it only benefits the people who don't want to see Stockton and Lodi grow together."
Mark Chandler, executive director of the Lodi-Woodbridge Winegrape Commission, said there are ways to preserve the land, but a compromise must be struck between interested parties.
"There are numerous successful vehicles for farmland preservation around the country," Chandler said. "The trick in this area is finding one that will satisfy both the landowners' and the preservationists' interests."
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