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Transmission Prime or Unique Farmlands

Prime or Unique Farmlands
Present, Potentially Affected

The Farmland Protection Policy Act (FPPA) is a part of the Agriculture and Food Act of 1981 (Public law 97-98) and aims to decrease impacts of nonagricultural federal programs developed on prime, unique farmlands or land of statewide or local importance that will have “irreversible conversion”.

(http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb1187178.pdf )

The FPPA defines the four types of land categories as follows:

Prime farmland

This land must demonstrate outstanding qualities of both “physical and chemical features to sustain long-term agricultural production.” It must have soil, moisture, and climate conditions to sustain high crop yields. Irrigated crops must have occupied the land at some time in the last four years.

Farmland of Statewide Importance

This land is similar to prime farmlands, however, it has steeper slopes that increase runoff and the soil does not hold as much moisture. Irrigated crops must have occupied the land at some time in the last four years.

Unique farmland

The soil and climate features have a lower quality than prime farmlands, but still produce large crop yields. It may have greater slopes and lower ability to irrigate naturally. Irrigated crops must have occupied the land at some time in the last four years.

Farmland of Local Importance

The soils do not qualify for other land categories and these lands are often not irrigated or cultivated. However, the local community deems this land important to the economy as it supports fenced livestock and aquaculture. Irrigated crops must have occupied the land at some time in the last four years.

The government aids transmission line projects on prime or unique farmlands with acquiring and disposing land, property management, and technical assistance. Factors considered in granting transmission line right-of-ways and lease acquisition of required lands for development include how much degradation the project will cause to rare agricultural resources. ftp://ftp.co.imperial.ca.us/icpds/eir/orni21/07ag-resources.pdf


Prime or Unique Farmlands Impacts & Mitigation

Projects, such as a transmission line extension or development project, have the potential to convert important farmland to non-farm use. In order to combat conversion impacts, the Natural Resources Conservation Service uses a land evaluation and site assessment system to establish a farmland conversion impact rating score on proposed site locations for project development. Alternative site selection may be recommended if land evaluations conclude that the impacts are too large.

Transmission lines can affect farm operations and increase costs for the farm operator. Potential impacts depend on the transmission line design and type of farming. Transmission lines can affect field operations, prevent aerial crop spraying and future land development, create wind breaks, and interfere with moving irrigation equipment. It can also create problems for turning field machinery and maintaining efficient fieldwork patterns , create opportunities for weed encroachment, compact soils, and damage drain tiles.

Site mitigation measures include:


  • To mitigate long-term farmland impacts, avoid scheduling construction activities during planting, growing, and harvesting seasons.
  • Build temporary gates, with the landowner’s permission, to mitigate livestock impacts during construction.
  • Install cattle guards where permanent access roads cut through fences or farmland.
  • Notify grazing leaseholders to attend fence-cutting activities to ensure the fence is braced properly.
  • Use non-guyed freestanding transmission structures with highly visible shield guards to cover the wires in agricultural areas.

Water resources

  • Many farmlands are equipped with irrigation and effluent runoff systems. These existing structures can both help and hinder transmission line development.
  • Crops grow well in floodplains and need water to permeate the soil, while transmission ancillary facilities and substations require runoff to be diverted to decrease electrical risks.
  • Understanding the land layout prior to site selection will reveal how much runoff infrastructure is needed to mitigate excess water.


  • Review federal, state, county and city zoning laws to determine whether or not prime or unique farmlands exist in the area.
  • Land buffers around substations and high voltage towers are required to decrease runoff sedimentation, visual, and irrigation impacts to surrounding farmlands with prime or unique qualities.


  • To assist in reclamation efforts, stockpile topsoil at an adjacent site until the project is complete. After the project is complete, transport soil back on site to begin restoration efforts. Typically, the topsoil storage site will experience temporary impacts, while the main site will experience permanent development impacts.
  • Restore soils to pre-construction quality by regrading, reseeding, replanting, uncompacting compacted soil, and adding extra nutrients.
  • Restore fences, gates and natural barriers to their original condition.

Mitigation plans and options include:

Agriculture Conservation Easement

  • This document is a restriction that landowners will place upon their property to protect agricultural lands, ground and surface water quality, wildlife habitat, scenic views, or historical buildings.
  • This easement allows a third party conservation organization to administer the restrictions indicated in the agreement. These provisions are especially useful when transmission developers request the right-of-way privileges, or land for the project.
  • These documents are tailored to each property requesting this easement.


Agriculture In-Lieu Mitigation Fee

  • If transmission line development requests less than five acres of prime or unique farmland, compensation paid to the farmer is equivalent to the acreage’s conservation value. Typical costs include: easement acquisition cost, transaction cost, monitoring endowment, administrative costs, and contingency.

(An excerpt from the Yolo County Code zoning regulations (see http://www.yolocounty.org/community-development/planning-public-works/planning- division/2014-zoning-code)) source

Public Benefit Agreement

  • This is an agreement between transmission line developers and the affected community (i.e. farmers).
  • It outlines amenities the transmission line developer aims to provide to the community, and in return, the community outwardly supports the development project.