Agriculture is the engine that runs Merced County, but for some residents that engine is annoying.
A recent study by the UC Cooperative Extension showed that there are 2.5 million acres of land in the state used for farming, and many of those ag lands butt up against residential areas.
The study looked at Merced and Monterey counties, specifically Livingston and Los Banos in Merced County.
Maxwell Norton, farm adviser for the cooperative extension in Merced, was one of the authors of the study. The study was based on interviews and other information gathered by the authors, Norton said.
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"It was evident to us that there was a lot of rural/urban conflict in Los Banos and very little in Livingston," Norton said.
Included in the study was how farmers deal with close neighbors, and how people living in residential areas live with farm practices.
Norton said some of the problems farmers face with urban neighbors included property crimes, such as trespassing, theft of all types and vandalism.
"We found that the ag commissioner received a lot more complaints from urban residents in Los Banos than they did in the Livingston area," Norton said.
David Robinson, agriculture commissioner for Merced County, said his office gets about one call a month about urban/rural problems.
"We get more in the spring when more applications are being put on fields," Robinson said. Most of the complaints Robinson deals with are those dealing with pesticides. "Any sort of drift (of pesticides) we will definitely investigate," he said.
Other complaints Robinson gets are about planes flying over houses, bugs coming from fields into homes or being overrun with squirrels.
"If we can help, we will," Robinson said. "If we can't help, we will send the person to the agency that can help."
Norton said most complaints from urban residents are about aerial spraying, night noise and dust. "In Los Banos people seem to be very sensitive to planes flying over their homes," Norton said. "They automatically think if it's a small plane, it's an ag plane."
Part of the study was designed to discover why there was such a difference in the number of complaints coming from Los Banos and Livingston, Norton said.
"We found that the population of Los Banos is fundamentally different from the population in Livingston," Norton said. "In Los Banos, there are a lot of truly urban people, Bay Area transplants who are commuting. They did not grow up around ag."
In Livingston, the opposite is true, Norton said. "The residents have been in close contact with ag their whole life," he said.
Even recent transplants in Livingston are used to living in an agricultural area, Norton said. "There are people who have moved here from India," Norton said. "They came from an agricultural background. It just doesn't get their attention."
Norton said farmers have learned to tread lightly when it comes to getting along with their neighbors. "They try to avoid tractoring or spraying in the afternoons when children are home," Norton said. "And there are some crops they avoid growing near urban areas, like cotton."
Norton said keeping urban areas as compact as possible will help, especially as the population of the Valley continues to grow.
"There are many more residents now scattered throughout the rural areas," Norton said. "It's become increasingly difficult to have a buffer between the farms and residential areas."
Reporter Carol Reiter can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or email@example.com.