The Rural/Urban Conflict

February 13, 2001


Rick Chase, Ag & Natural Resources Educator and Scott Hutcheson, Leadership & Community Development Specialist

In the real world of today, country life and city life are often not as distinctive. In many areas, retail centers, business parks, housing developments, and agricultural land all share the same landscape, blurring the lines between “urban” and “rural.” As the urban and rural “cultures” begin to comingle, conflicts can arise.

The Rush to the Country


More and more people are selling their urban and suburban homes and moving to the country. For some, the willingness to make longer commutes or the ability to work from home with a computer and telephone is giving them the freedom to live further from urban areas. In other cases, people are relocating to the country to retire or to work for the increasing number of businesses that have moved or expanded to rural areas.

Rural areas have had a net inflow of 2 million Americans this decade that is, 2 million more people have moved from metropolitan centers to rural areas than have gone the traditional small town to big city route. By contrast, rural areas in the 1980’s had a net loss of 1.4 million people. Thanks to the newcomers, 75% of the nation’s rural counties are growing again after years of decline.

People are moving to the country for a variety of reasons:

  • Escape from the City—Some urban areas are plagued with crime and poor schools.
  • Rural Character—The serenity of scenic landscapes and the beautiful views lure people from the city.
  • Cheaper Living–The cost of a comparable home is usually less, and other costs of living may be less.
  • Opportunity to Work at Home –Technology, permits more people to work at home.
  • Industry Relocation— The Internet and overnight shipping are enabling high tech industries to settle in the countryside.

The Clash of Cultures

Many new residents are finding that life in the country, with all its benefits, also brings some new challenges. Longtime rural residents, including farmers, are also facing new challenges, which seem to have arrived with their new neighbors. The different expectations and lifestyles of new move ins and longtime residents may prompt complaints and lead to conflicts.

Farmers’ Complaints

Some common complaints of farmers include increased amounts of trash and litter in fields and pastures, unleased dogs disrupting or killing livestock, trespassing, and increased vandalism to buildings, fences, and equipment.

Non-Farm Neighbors’ Complaints

For the nonfarm neighbor, most of the complaints concern the day-to-day operations of farming. Typically rural residents complain about noisy equipment—tractors, grain dryers, and trucks. Other common complaints are about the dusty conditions during planting and harvest, livestock odors, fear of harm from farm chemicals and wide, slow-moving farm equipment on roads and highways.

Differing Viewpoints

“What is that farmer doing out there?” “Why is that city slicker so upset?” It is likely that questions like these get asked pretty frequently.

Farmers and nonfarm residents have different ways of viewing their surroundings. Both need more understanding of the opposing point of view. Both parties need more understanding of the other’s desires. With such different points of view it is easy to understand why some farmers and nonfarm residents feel they way they do. Neither may be right or wrong.

Building Bridges & Cultivating Relationships


Farmers and nonfarmer residents all have a role to play in maintaining good relationships. Everyone can enjoy the benefits of rural life if the stakeholders are willing to come together to deal with common problems. There are specific steps that can be taken by farmers,

nonfarmers to help make rural living more enjoyable for everyone.


What Farmers Can Do


Farmers can use a number of strategies to head off potential conflict and build stronger ties with their nonfarm neighbors and their local communities. It is important to realize that commonly accepted practices in agricultural areas are not always in the best interest of neighbors or others in the community. Every day, farmers and researchers learn more about controlling odors, dusts, insects, weeds, and noises. Farmers should take advantage of these technological advances. There are cost sharing programs to protect groundwater supplies and to integrate pest management strategies.

In this information age, a farmer may keep up with technological advances by using the advice of private consultants, Extension specialists, county Extension educators, and agribusiness experts.

Get involved in the community


Farmers should make a sincere effort to get to know their neighbors and get involved in community projects. Sitting on a planning board or taking on other community leadership roles is an empowering experience. Social institutions like places of worship, civic groups, and charities provide informal opportunities to discuss problems and find solutions.

Promote benefits of the farm to neighbors and community


Although generosity takes time and resources, simple gestures are great ways to build bridges and create a stronger sense of community. Small favors, however, can sometimes lead to requests for larger favors. Farmers should be aware of how much can be done, and not hesitate to say no. If activities suggest more liability insurance, an attorney and insurance agent should be contacted for advice.

What Non-Farmers Can Do

If nonfarm residents have a problem with something a farmer is doing, they should meet with the farmer. Farmers may resent having to spend time and money to solve what they perceive is “someone else’s” problem. However, solutions require all parties to participate and a willingness to resolve a problem.

What the Community Can Do

The community wishing to minimize conflict should rely less on lawsuits, right-to-farm laws, and zoning ordinances, and work more informally with farmers and other local residents to mitigate or mediate conflict.


All in This Together


Farmers, and nonfarmers working through conflict involves finding common ground and shared interests. In the case of rural/urban conflict, one of the shared interests is the desire of farmers and nonfarmers, new residents and longtime residents, to all enjoy life in the country. As urbanites and suburbanites continue to move to rural areas and farmers and other longtime residents continue to have more new neighbors, cultivating relationships and building bridges will be vital to working through the rural/urban conflict.


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