Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Master of Science (MS)


Sociology and Anthropology

Department name when degree awarded

Sociology, Social Work and Anthropology

Committee Chair(s)

Douglas Jackson-Smith


Douglas Jackson-Smith


Richard S. Krannich


Carlos V. Licón


Population growth is often linked to negative impacts on agriculture. However, the effects of residential development likely depends on the spatial pattern of development, such as whether housing is clustered or dispersed, and whether it is located near or away from important farmland. For several decades, rural and urban planners have advocated policies to encourage consolidated forms of development as one strategy to protect agriculture and preserve open space. To date, relatively little empirical research has been conducted on the actual effects of different spatial patterns of residential settlement on agricultural. This study aims to fill that gap with a regional focus on the Intermountain West.

The five state Intermountain West region (Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and Utah) is experiencing rapid population growth, and much of that growth takes the form of low-density development outside the urban core. Rural and exurban housing has been identified as a particularly damaging form of development for agriculture. This study uses county-level data between 1997-2012 to explore how different patterns of residential development in the rural and exurban areas affect farm trends in the Intermountain West.

The study found that traditional county-level measures of population pressure (e.g. county population growth rate) are not systematically related to farm trends in the region. However, by controlling for biophysical resources and indicators of socioeconomic opportunities, several indicators of the spatial pattern or distribution of development are statistically associated with trends in farm numbers, farm sales, and cropland acreage in this region. Areas with higher rural population density had consistently more negative trends in all three farm trends. Measures of land use heterogeneity (where development is intermingled with farming) were linked to more robust trends in farm. Contrary to expectations, greater clustering or aggregation of development was not linked to positive farm trends. The overall findings of this study have importance with particular relevance to planners, policy makers, farmers and rural community leaders. It suggests that efforts to protect farming using growth management tools can work, but should focus on separation of agriculture and potentially conflicting land uses.