As urban Georgia overflows into rural areas, social and environmental problems quickly arise. Also, the green spaces the urbanites moved out to enjoy, quickly disappear." /> As urban Georgia overflows into rural areas, social and environmental problems quickly arise. Also, the green spaces the urbanites moved out to enjoy, quickly disappear." />
Published on 11/09/99

Urban Sprawl Meets Rural Smell in Face-Off

y2kogo2.gif (3632 bytes)This story is another in a weekly series called "Planting the Seed: Science for the New Millennium." These stories feature ideas and advances in agricultural and environmental sciences with implications for the future.

In 1979, Winfred Trice moved his family to Madison, Ga., with dreams of green acres and bank accounts in the black.

Today, a sign in front of Trice's 80-acre farm advertises the coming of a golf course community.

"The taxes are getting so high and farm prices are dropping so low, we just can't afford to farm anymore," Trice said. "I will probably get out of farming altogether. There's just not much future to it."

Trice is not alone. After years in the irrigation business, he's seen others struggle. "Very few farmers I see are making progress," he said. "They're all going backward."

As farmland taxes skyrocket, Trice said, "about the only way a farmer can get out of debt is to sell his farm and get out of farming. It got me out of debt."

In Madison, which skirts metro Atlanta, the price of land has also gone sky-high.

"I think a lot of the people are running from Atlanta, coming out to live in the country," Trice said. "That has people buying land, subdividing and making a good profit. My only regret is that we sold a little too soon. Prices keep going up."

Every county in Georgia has lost farmland over the past 50 years. Some have lost as much as 90 percent of it. In 1945, Georgia was more than 63 percent farmland. Today, 28 percent is in farms.

"Each year, 225 Georgia farmers leave the land," said former Gov. Zell Miller in a recent speech. "Over the past 30 years, an average of 465 acres of Georgia farmland has been lost per day."

As urban Georgia overflows into rural areas, social and environmental problems quickly arise.

"From an agricultural standpoint, the largest problem is dealing with farm odors," said Horace Hudson of the University of Georgia. Hudson heads the agricultural leadership, education and communication unit of the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

"People who aren't used to it don't like the smells of farm operations like chicken litter or hog manure," Hudson said.

Other issues these areas face are some types of chemical spraying and the fear of animal waste lagoons overflowing to contaminate water supplies. "Sometimes noise and the slowing traffic of farm vehicles can annoy urbanites not used to it," Hudson added.

These merging populations also face social problems.

"We've seen heated discussions over land use, planning and zoning and the inadequacy of protecting either side," Hudson said.

That has already become evident for Georgia's poultry industry.

"It is an issue and will become more of an issue as urban areas expand into agricultural areas," said Dan Cunningham, a UGA extension poultry scientist.

"Over the past couple of years, we've begun working with some counties on these zoning issues," he said. "As the poultry industry has expanded, some counties have decided to look at zoning issues. Most of our counties haven't had any real zoning related to poultry houses."

Zoning is good protection for poultry growers and their neighbors. "As new people move in, it becomes more an issue," Cunningham said, "because people are less tolerant of those kinds of things."

These problems prevail where rural and urban areas are facing off. And Hudson doesn't see a quick answer to them.

"I think they're going to continue," Hudson said. "It could eventually affect farm production overall."

One long-term effect is a kind of Catch-22. "Many urbanites move to the fringe of these rural areas because they want that green, open space," Hudson said. "And before long, it's gone. Very little green space is left in DeKalb County. As Gwinnett and Cherokee become more urban, more green space is lost there, too."

As farms disappear one by one, Hudson sees the long-term result as dire. "I think we will eventually cause our food production to move outside the United States," he said. "There are already reports of the swine industry looking at South America."

"We'll still have pork," he said. "But we can look at history when the food supply was used as leverage over other countries. The country that has the food has the better position."

Faith Peppers is the director of public affairs with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.