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Rural-urban agriculture conflict continues

About 2.5 million acres of California farmland are located within one-third mile of residential homes, which can lead to conflicts along the “edge” when new residents come face to face with unfamiliar noises, odors, pesticides and dust.

An article in the July-September 2010 issue of the University of California’s California Agriculture journal explores how communities deal with conflict when new residents – often commuters to urban centers – move into farming areas. The entire issue can be viewed and downloaded at

"The common wisdom repeated in newspaper reports is that newly arrived edge residents with urban backgrounds are more likely to be upset by local farm operations than residents with rural backgrounds and longer tenure in a locality," writes lead author Alvin D. Sokolow, a UC Davis public policy specialist emeritus, and co-authors. "Our research supports this observation."

Sokolow and his colleagues conducted a comparative case analysis of two communities in each of three counties: Merced (Los Banos and Livingston), Monterey (Prunedale and Salinas) and San Diego (Ramona and Oceanside). The paired cities within each county were selected in order to compare low- and high-conflict situations. The researchers conducted numerous interviews between 2003 and 2005, and studied demographic trends and related literature.

The levels of conflict detected in the six communities often corresponded with population growth rates. For example, Los Banos, which experienced a much higher rate of complaints than Livingston, saw its population double between 1990 and 2004, while Livingston grew only 60 percent.

"Newer residents [in Los Banos] have higher incomes, are residentially concentrated in new subdivisions on the edge of town and adjacent to farms, and are more likely to work in occupations not associated with agriculture," the researchers write. "Livingston, by contrast, is in the central part of the county, closer to other San Joaquin Valley communities and less accessible to Bay Area communities ... Livingston seems to lack the social and occupational divisions that have developed in Los Banos."

A related research article in the July-September 2010 issue of California Agriculture describes the use of geographic information systems (GIS) to bolster land-use planning and conserve prime and strategic farmland in the Central Valley. The new method was used in Fresno County, and the approach will now be extended regionally in the San Joaquin Valley. Plus, an opinion piece by Sokolow ponders the future of the Williamson Act, California’s longstanding farmland protection program, which is threatened by state budget cuts.

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