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Don>t Mess with Texas…or their Ranches

Faced with Dwindling Profits, Ranchers / Farmers Sell off Parcels
 
Texas farms and ranches drop in size year after year, a new study shows. Rural lands have an important economic role for Texas, but farms, ranches and forests declined between 1997 and 2006.  As land is parceled off to the highest bidder, the state"s natural resources vanish too. All told, there has been a loss of 2.1 million acres of agricultural lands since 1997.
 
•When you talk about the infrastructure of the economy and life in Texas, land is it,'• said Dr. Neal Wilkins, one of the study's authors and director of the Texas A/M Institute of Renewable Natural Resources.  •According to the data, only 50 percent of farms and ranches below 500 acres showed a net profit during 2007.  In addition, these fragmented ownerships are more likely to be converted to non-native pastures and become a challenge for managing wildlife and other natural resources.- 
 
Some of the regions with the fastest losses to fragmentation were in the Trans Pecos, Edwards Plateau and South Texas regions where more than 2.8 million acres were chopped into small- and mid-sized parcels since 1997.  •Where traditional agriculture has declined in profitability, landowners have faced a hard decision of having to sell parcels of land,• Wilkins explained. 
 
•Agricultural lands provide significant public benefits such as clean, abundant water, carbon sequestration and clean air. This study is a wake-up call that those public benefits are disappearing,• said Blair Fitzsimmons of American Farmland Trust.
 
One positive note, however, is in the northern areas of the state where some 2.5 million acres were consolidated into larger operations.
 
Glimpse Texas from Outer Space
 
One unique feature of the study is a new tool developed to aid policymakers and local officials in making land-use decisions. The Texas Land Trends Web site, http://www.txlandtrends.org/, links to a trend visualizer that enables one to view 10-year land-use trends by Texas county, area, river basin or eco-region. One can see data on irrigated cropland, dry cropland, non-native pasture, native rangeland, wildlife management, forests, and more. The more illumination one sees, the more populated the region ... and the fewer open ranches and farms.

By Chris Navarro
Get Ranch Jobs, Contributing Editor

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