Farming Future of Two Marin Ranches Secured by Innovative Land Use Agreement
January 8, 2015
Pt. Reyes Station, Calif. – Tomales (Calif.) ranchers Al and Cathie Poncia have committed their ranch to farming in perpetuity by selling a Mandatory Agricultural Use (MAU) amendment to Marin Agricultural Land Trust (MALT). The MAU is an innovative tool in farmland protection and its retroactive use on the Poncias’ ranch is a first for the organization.
The Poncias first secured their ranch from development in 1992 by selling a conservation easement to MALT. The new Mandatory Agricultural Use amendment requires that the land be farmed, preventing it from dropping out of the agricultural economy. MALT is now the first land trust in the country to offer a comprehensive MAU program. Though MALT has included MAU provisions in all of its new easements since 2011, the addition of a retroactive, voluntary option for farms already protected by MALT sets the program apart.
For the Poncias, the new MAU agreement means the land that has been farmed by four generations of Al’s family will continue to provide food and contribute to the local agricultural economy and community.
“If my family ever decides or is forced to sell the land, it would ensure the continuance of some form of productive agriculture on this property,” said Al Poncia, who lives on the farm with wife Cathie. The family, including son Loren Poncia, also owns two neighboring ranches where Loren raises beef cattle and sheep.
Down Highway 1 from the Poncia Ranch, Barinaga Ranch owners Marcia Barinaga and Corey Goodman decided to add Mandatory Agricultural Use to their existing MALT easement as well, and donated the value of the MAU agreement to MALT.
Barinaga and Goodman purchased a MALT-protected ranch in 2001, and Barinaga has built a sheep ranch and artisanal cheese-making operation on the property. In 2014 the couple announced they would leave their ranch to MALT when they die. The new MAU amendment on Barinaga Ranch strengthens their commitment to MALT’s mission to protect farmland and ensures that their ranch will always be used for agriculture.
“We are delighted to gift this more stringent agricultural and environmental easement to MALT,” said Goodman. “We believe in MALT’s vision, and want to assure that active, sustainable agriculture in harmony with protecting the environment is permanently protected.”
Both new MAU agreements stipulate that the land must continue to be used for commercial agriculture forever, regardless of change in ownership. The amendments extend the scope of the original easements, which prohibit subdivision, paving, pollution and other activities detrimental to agriculture, but stop short of requiring active farming.
Traditional restrictive easements continue to work for farms like Poncia Ranch and Barinaga Ranch across the country. But threats to family farms in Marin County have changed since MALT started buying easements in 1980. Today’s primary threat to working farms is estate development of Marin’s scenic ranches. If the new owners don’t need the land to turn a profit, they may farm it only lightly or take it out of production entirely.
Losing working farmland to estate development hollows out Marin’s agricultural economy, which depends on a critical mass of farms to sustain agricultural markets, services and infrastructure. The owners of Poncia Ranch and Barinaga Ranch, like small farmers everywhere, are buffeted by weather, market fluctuations, regulation, high cost of land, and a host of other forces beyond any community’s control. By keeping farmland in commercial production, MALT seeks to ensure that farmers here have every opportunity to thrive.
The MAU – known in legal terms as an affirmative agricultural covenant – also lowers the value of the land, making it more affordable for farmers to sell land to other farmers. The compensation offered by the sale of an MAU can help farming families invest in their future or settle some of the burdens of inheritance taxes when land is passed down to a younger generation.
“MALT led the way in creating land permanence for farms in the early 1980s, and is once again on the leading edge by providing a means of achieving agricultural permanence as well,” said Jamison Watts, MALT Executive Director. “What that means for Marin’s farming community is that farmers like Al and Cathie Poncia, Marcia Barinaga and Corey Goodman can trust that their land will be protected from development generations from now, and that it will continue to be vital part of this community’s rich agricultural heritage forever.”
Media Contact: Marisa Walker, (415) 663-1158 ext. 311, [email protected]