Bullet-train planners took their first step toward reducing their system's footprint on agriculture Wednesday, approving a $20 million effort to compensate for farmland lost to the railroad right of way.

The farmland-preservation action, approved at the California High-Speed Rail Authority meeting in Sacramento, authorizes the rail agency to work with the state Department of Conservation to put up at least $20 million to buy farmland conservation easements.

For each acre of agricultural land that would be lost to the railroad right of way in the Valley -- an estimated 2,500 acres from Merced to Bakersfield -- at least one acre of permanent easement would be secured.

Farming advocates, however, said the authority is underestimating the cost.