The Value of Farmland: A New Study Shows Why We Want to Protect the Vanishing Countryside
Sun, 08/09/2009 - 12:00am
While many people profess to love America's vanishing rural landscape, no research has ever been done to pinpoint exactly why people value it. Until now.
A four-year research project recently completed by Leah Greden Mathews, associate professor of economics at the University of North Carolina at Asheville, was able to determine the specific reasons people appreciate farmlands as well as to put a price tag on those values in Western North Carolina. The study, the first of its kind in the nation, looked beyond the obvious agricultural value of farms in the four-county area around the University. The team developed an enhanced land evaluation and site assessment (LESA) model that incorporates the scenic beauty and cultural heritage characteristics of the landscape. Mathews argues that the same model can be applied to rural areas across the nation, helping prioritize land for protection.
Through surveys and focus groups, Mathews found that residents and visitors feel that the greatest benefit of neighboring farmland is local food, scenic beauty and jobs for farmers. More than 80% of respondents were concerned that farmland will be developed for non-farm use. Participants concluded that they would be willing to pay between $184-$195 per year to preserve farmland. And nearly two-thirds of respondents also said that they would be willing to pay more for their food if the increase in price went directly to protect farmland.
Mathews began the study in 2005 with funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service. She and her team surveyed hundreds of area residents and visitors, compiled and analyzed data and built an interactive, multi-media Web site that farmers, rural communities and policy makers can use to better understand the different values that people apply to farmland. (www.unca.edu/farmlandvalues)
Mathews is available for interviews. A large number of photographs, audio files and data are also available.
Previous Press Releases:
UNC Asheville Project Explores Western North Carolina's Farmland Values (March 2009)
What Places Do You Treasure in the Mountains? (January 2008)
Farmland Values Project Explores Non-Farm Values of Agricultural Land in Buncombe, Haywood, Henderson and Madison Counties (October 2007)
Farmland Research Group Seeks Community Participants (May 2006)
What's the Farm Worth? (January 2006)