Study Finds Agricultural Land Provides a Net Benefit to Wake County

Jun 21, 2024

A new study from the University of Mount Olive shows that farms, ranches and forests not only improve the quality of life in Wake County but also save money. For every dollar they bring in, they only need 24 cents in services.

The University of Mount Olive’s Lois G. Britt Agribusiness Center worked with the Wake Soil and Water Conservation District and other departments to conduct the Cost of Community Services Study. It looks at the costs of public services compared to the revenue earned from different types of land use. This study categorizes land use into residential, commercial/industrial and farm/forest, and assesses the financial impact of each category on the county's budget.

“The Cost of Community Services Study is a potential planning tool for our local leaders,” said Wake County Commissioner Cheryl Stallings. “It helps us understand the gain or loss from different land use categories and supports our efforts to balance growth with the preservation of agricultural lands."

The Wake County Cost of Community Services Study used spending and revenue data from the 2021–2022 fiscal year.

Key findings from the study include:

  • For each $1 of revenue from residential land, the county spent $1.09 on services.
  • For each $1 of revenue from commercial land, the county spent only eight cents on services.
  • For each $1 of revenue from agricultural and forestry land, the county spent 24 cents on services.

The study methodology shows that residential land use costs more than it earns, while commercial and agricultural land use earn more than they cost. Commercial properties give the most profit, with only eight cents spent on services for every dollar of revenue. Agricultural land is next, costing 24 cents per dollar earned. Overall, Wake County spends much less on services for agricultural and commercial land compared to residential land.

With its economic benefits and being an essential food resource, it is concerning that North Carolina alone lost 11,117 farms and over 950,000 acres of agricultural land between 2002 and 2022. The trends are equally alarming in Wake County, with a loss of 182 farms and 30,480 acres of farmland in the same period.

“Increased land values and competition for land for non-agricultural uses have been a threat to farmland over the past several years,” said Teresa Furr, Wake Soil and Water Conservation District director. “Taking steps to preserve and protect agricultural lands in Wake County is beneficial to agriculture as well as the long-term well-being of the entire region.”

Wake County is experiencing significant growth, with an average increase of 51 people per day. While this growth is a strength for the urban county, it also highlights the need to balance development with the preservation of open spaces for agriculture and recreation.

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