The value of farmland goes beyond money, study suggests

by | Apr 24, 2009

Photo courtesy of the Farmland Values Project

Photo courtesy of the Farmland Values Project

For several years now, Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler has been pushing for the preservation of farmland in North Carolina, saying that its value goes beyond dollars and cents.

A study released by UNC-Asheville suggests he’s right.

The Farmland Values Project collected, analyzed and communicated the many values that people have for farmland in four Western North Carolina counties. More than 1,100 residents in Buncombe, Haywood, Henderson and Madison counties participated in a survey, focus groups or mapping exercise between 2006 and 2008. In addition, 307 visitors to the region took part in the survey.

Here’s a sampling of the results:

  • Farmland affects residents’ quality of life, and is very important to them.
  • The top five benefits of farmland were locally produced food, scenic beauty, jobs for farmers and others in agriculture, a link to our agricultural heritage, and open space.
  • Residents are concerned about the loss of farmland and believe more needs to be done to protect it.
  • Eighty-eight percent of resident respondents are concerned about the likelihood that farmland would be developed for non-farm use.
  • Both residents and visitors are willing to pay to protect farmland in the region. On average, residents indicated they would be willing to donate $185 a year toward farmland protection in their county.
  • Nearly two-thirds of respondents indicated they would be willing to pay more for their food if the price increase went directly to protect farmland.

The project was conducted by Leah Greden-Mathews, a UNCA economist; sociologist Daniel O’Leary of Old Dominion University; and Art Rex of Appalachian State University’s Department of Geography and Planning. Bill Yarborough, an agronomist with our department, was a collaborating partner on the project.

The Web site for the project includes lots of interesting facts and figures. But the really interesting part is a section called “The Story.” It contains interviews with residents about farms in the region. “The Story” is a great oral history piece divided into categories describing farmland, its benefits, what’s happening to farmland and what we can do about it.