Keeping in mind the population of West Marin is about 10,000 and all of Marin County is 248,794 (July, 2008), read below the definitions of the land types and see how much land in Marin is considered prime farmland or even just farmland. Total county area was listed as 378,662 acres.
Marin County Farmland, 2010 (click to enlarge)
updated April 11, 2012
The Future of Agriculture in Rural Marin
by Burr Heneman
The basic picture is that most large-acreage agriculture in Marin is pretty vulnerable. Acreage remains the same, but inflation-adjusted income has been declining steadily. I’ll bet that the Transition movement is interested in helping figure out how to foster greater ag production that can be consumed locally (Marin? Bay Area?) rather than see conversion of our ranches to 60-acre ranchettes because the ranchers are having a harder and harder time making a living.
… some graphs about basic Marin ag economics that Michael Mery and I have put together. Here’s the picture we hope the four graphs help convey:
• Historically, most of Marin’s ag production value has been tied to commodities, especially milk.
• Milk (and beef) prices to producers have not been keeping up with inflation (an understatement).
• The result is declining gross ag revenue (inflation-adjusted).
• The ag that many people are most familiar with (vegetables, wine grapes, aquaculture) has been increasing, but that increase does not begin to offset the decline in inflation-adjusted returns from commodity-priced products.
• So, while ag acreage has remained about the same, the inflation-adjusted ag income to support those properties has declined by about 50% (!!!) over the past 50 years.
• This problem is common to ag in much of the US. There really are only three ways that farm families have of reversing the decline in farm income:
1) increase non-farm income (get a job off the farm, something that most US farm families already do),
2) shift from commodity-priced products (milk and beef) to value-added production (cheese, organic milk, grass-fed beef, wine grapes, olive oil), and 3) develop your property.
• People who like the way West Marin looks shouldn’t take the vistas of undeveloped land for granted. It won’t remain “open space” if the income to support the owners of those ranches keeps declining.
Graph #1 : inflation-adjusted prices that dairy farmers receive, 1977-2009, are down by over 50%. Milk still accounted for 56% of Marin ag income in 2008 — our ranchers are still heavily reliant on it.
Graph #2 – Given the continuing importance of milk and the declining prices for milk to producers (inflation adjusted), it’s not surprising that total return to ag producers from all categories of ag in Marin has declined from about $115million to about $60million (adjusted for inflation) in the past 30 years.
Graph #3 — This graph shows the decline in gross returns for ag from large ranches, most of it from grass-based ag products like milk, beef, sheep, grazing leases, etc. And it shows how little all other ag categories amount to (vegetables, wine grapes, aquaculture, etc.).
Map — here’s the area at risk — or where the Transition potential is: everything in both shades of green plus the ranches outlined at Pt. Reyes National Seashore and in GGNRA. At least the dark green is under MALT easements.
This essay was written for Community Conversations #4:
Agriculture in Rural Marin: Its Challenges, its possibilities, its future, April 10, 2010, POINT REYES STATION
10-minute presentations on the state of agriculture in Rural Marin by: