An examination of rural small acreage homeowners in three west Texas Counties



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For years, agrimarketers have considered large and small farms as separate divisions and thus represented individual needs and marketing opportunities. While it has been historically important to recognize segments with the production agriculture industry (e.g. large, mid-size, and small farms), there is another group emerging that are garnering attention of agricultural companies (Davis, 2004). Within the traditional rural agriculture landscape, an emerging group of people seeking a country lifestyle on small acreage tracts of land (5-100 acres) are being identified as a rural segment with its own needs and wants. As this new group continues to emerge, they are being labeled with a number of different names, from ruralpolitans, to sundown farmers to flashlight feeders to hobby farmers to homesteaders to part-time farmers. For the purpose of this study, the term ruralpolitans will be used. Ruralpolitans are a steadily growing market of former suburbanites and city dwellers that are drawn to the country to pursue their passions that are not being facilitated by urban living. These passions may range from a slower pace of life to being able to garden and raise pets and livestock. As such, these rural residential landowners are often described as people who are more concerned with lifestyle than profit (Davis, 2004). They value things like privacy, independence, and open spaces. While they do not expect to make a profit from the land, they do feel a connection with it and want to be closer to it. Individuals living this ruralpolitans lifestyle have been characterized as middle-aged, educated, and married with traditional values. In some circumstances, children still live at home while others may be empty nesters. Within this population segment you will find gardeners, wildlife enthusiasts, lawn buffs, and people who want to experiment in the livestock industry on a smaller scale. As opposed to full-time farmers, these ruralpolitans generally work fulltime away from their homes in addition to working at their residence. As such, they typically have higher than average incomes with the bulk of their income and assets not related to the farm. There is not one type of career that typifies a ruralpolitan as you will find business professionals, doctors, educators, lawyers, publishers, and consultants - all who are choosing a rural lifestyle and can afford it. Many factors may be contributing to the recent growth of nonmetro county residents. Among the explanations provided in the literature are: (a) continued growth of metropolitan centers and their expansions (spillover) into adjacent rural areas; (b) the decentralization of manufacturing in pursuit of lower land and wage cost; (c) increases in service occupation sectors; (d) early retirement coupled with high retirement incomes; (e) increase per capita disposable real income; (f) increased pursuit of leisure activities and the resultant development; (g) leveling off of loss of farm populations; (h) youth revolution with an anti-materialistic movement; (i) anti-urbanism and increase in alternative lifestyle gaps in urban and rural lifestyles; (j) more long distance commuting; energy and mineral exploitation; (k) completion of interstate highway system; (l) lower cost of living in rural areas; and (m) increased fear of crime and concern with urban disseminates (crime, congestion, and population) (Dejong & Sell,1977; Beale, 1977; Wardwell, 1977; McCarthy & Morrison, 1979; Morrison, 1979; Carpenter, 1977; Blackwood & Carpenter, 1978). Dillman (1979) indicated that “if people were free to choose, they would prefer to live in rural areas rather than in cities” (p. 962). Many urban residents are choosing more rural locations that can offer similar benefits to those within the city while leaving the crowded urban living conditions behind. As these changes occur in rural areas and communities, what are the needs and wants of this emerging population segment that communities that need to satisfy? Further, what changes in products and services will agrimarketers need to consider to remain successful in rural areas?