Reporting from Visalia, Calif. - Strolling through emerald groves of orange trees, Tulare County citrus grower Allen Ishida said he reckons he'll have to sell some of his 270 acres to pay higher property taxes should his county pull out of a threatened farmland preservation program.
Thirty miles down California 99, third-generation almond grower Don Davis was making similar calculations.
Davis figures he could rip out rows of almond trees stretching over 480 acres near McFarland in Kern County and sell the land, if necessary. He'd have no choice, Davis said. His property taxes would probably triple from $44,000.
Across the San Joaquin Valley, the richest agricultural region in the nation, the farmers who produce milk, grow crops and raise beef cattle are nervous about the popular Williamson Act program going belly up.
"We don't want to see it go away because it gives us the ability to just be farmers and to be billed like farmers," Davis said....
Created in 1965, the act allows counties to enter into rolling contracts with farmers and ranchers to keep agricultural land in production for at least 10 years. In return, counties value their lands in ways that reduce property taxes by up to 90%.
For 38 years, the state has contributed some of the annual property tax revenue that counties lose. Loss of those payments this year is spurring several counties to assess whether they can afford to stay in the program.