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  April 4, 2000

Survey Shows Clear Support for
Farms Among State Residents

An overwhelming number of Connecticut residents agree that having working farms around the state makes it a better place to live, according to a statewide survey conducted by UConn's Center for Survey Research and Analysis for the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics.

Yet the survey also found that most state residents have never heard about the state's farmland preservation program.

Nine out of every 10 (90 percent) of the 604 state residents surveyed between Jan. 27 and Feb. 2 feel that it is important to preserve farmland for future generations; and just over three quarters (78 percent) believe that the state should support farming so that we can eat locally grown food.

Additionally, more than half of the respondents (62 percent) to the survey - distributed evenly among Connecticut's six congressiona l districts - said they are willing to pay more for fruits and vegetables that are grown in state. A slightly smaller number (57 percent) said they would be willing to pay extra for milk products produced on Connecticut farms.

But when asked about the state's farmland preservation program, established 22 years ago to buy developments rights to farmland so that farmers can sell their land but it cannot be used for non-agricultural purposes, nearly four out of five (78 percent) of the survey's respondents had not heard of the program.

Still, a significant majority (71 percent) said they supported the continued funding of the farmland preservation program, which between 1988 and 1998 spent about $5 million - an average of $4 per Connecticut household per year - to buy development rights to 11,000 acres of farmland throughout the state.

Of those respondents who said they support continued funding of the program, 26 percent favor doubling the amount to $8 per household, while 32 percent want the funding to continue at the level of $4 per household. Another 41 percent favored state spending somewhere between $4 and $8 per household.

"The results from the survey indicate that support for farms is uniform and strong," says Emilio Pagoulatos, professor and head of the agricultural and resource economics department. He says the survey continues a department tradition of concern for farmland preservation, which goes back to the 1970s when faculty member Irving Fellows, now emeritus, wrote the original state legislation on farmland preservation.

Development rights for about 26,000 acres on 172 farms have been purchased through the farmland preservation program, but the goal was three times that, and the waiting list totals 200 farms, Pagoulatos says. "For us, these (survey) results send a strong message."

Connecticut is losing an average of 8,000 acres of farmland per year, the equivalent of 80 farms, according to the 1997 U.S. Department of Agriculture census report. Statewide, only 380,000 acres - about 11 percent of Connecticut's total land base - remain in agricultural use; the state ranks 10th nationally in farmland loss as a percentage of its remaining farmland.

"The strength of support for farmland preservation surprised us," says Jeremy Foltz, assistant professor of agricultural and resource economics, who analyzed much of the survey data. "An interesting part of the results is that they are general across the population, with support as strong among poor urban people as it is among wealthy rural people.

"We really expected an urban/suburban state such as Connecticut to be lukewarm about saving farms, because those who own their piece of lawn might care less about preserving open space," Foltz says. "What we find, however, is that urban and suburban dwellers are in favor of preserving farms because it is a luxury item they value highly, while rural people want to preserve their neighborhoods."

Other findings of the survey include:

  • Overall, 92 percent of the respondents agree that it is important for the state to spend money on programs to preserve open space, defined as forests and farms.

  • Sixty-four percent of the respondents disagree that it is more important to preserve open space for recreation than it is to preserve farmland.

  • Sixty-three percent disagree that farming causes environmental problems, due to such things as bad smells and use of dangerous chemicals.

  • Fifty-one percent agree that there is too much urban sprawl in Connecticut.

  • If the state does pay farmers to preserve their land, 91 percent of the respondents believe that they should be required to continue farming it.

  • Seventy-six percent said they had gone to a pick-your-own produce place, a farm stand, a Christmas tree farm or some other farm-based activity during the past year.

David Bauman