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Going, Going, Gone: The impact of land fragmentation
on Texas agriculture and wildlife

A New Breed of Landowner

For generations, land in Texas was a legacy. It was passed down from one generation of farmers or ranchers to the next. In today's world, however, traditional farming and ranching have become questionable propositions. Fewer and fewer people are willing to take on the challenges of a life on the land.

A new breed of landowners, excited about staking their claim to a bit of Texas, is eager to step in. Younger, more educated and more affluent, the newcomers are quite different from their predecessors. For them a "farm" or "ranch" is not a place to raise crops or cattle, but rather a weekend retreat from the city or a place to raise a family in the country.

Unlike previous owners, they don't need the large acreages of land required to make farming or ranching profitable. Instead, they merely want a place where they can hunt, fish and find a little solitude. Huge expanses of land aren't required for such things.

As a result, prices aren't driven by what the land can produce, but rather by its scenic and recreational value. Those natural amenities have become precious commodities. In many counties across Texas they have pushed prices for land to record levels.

The fragmentation study found that while the average agricultural value of farm and ranchland grew only 4 percent between 1992 and 2001, there were 25 counties where the development and recreational value of land increased between 86 percent and 292 percent. (Look at a map of this disparity between land values) The study found that such increases in "non-agricultural" values were a good early indicator that large farms and ranches would likely be divided into smaller ownerships. The study also revealed that this land fragmentation is often accompanied by changes in land use and fragmentation of wildlife habitats.

The researchers found that "mid-sized" family ranches of 500 to 2,000 acres were particularly susceptible to fragmentation. During the 1990s, these properties disappeared at a rate of a quarter-million acres a year because families who had lived and worked on those lands for generations sold them and moved on. (More information on the decline of mid-sized ranches)

The decision to sell is often a matter of simple, heartbreaking economics. With developers offering far more money than they can make from the land by farming or ranching, landowners accept the offers, often reluctantly, and move on. As they depart, a major piece of Texas' rural heritage disappears. Rural economies are often left in shambles as stockyards, grain elevators, farm implement dealers and other ranch-related enterprises close their doors.

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Bob Wagner
Managing Director, Field Programs
1 Short Street, Suite 2
Northampton, MA 01060
(p) 800-370-4879 (f) 413-586-9332

Texas Regional home page

Fragmentation study overview Water Worries
Ranches and Wildlife Recommendations
A PDR program for Texas Charts and Graphs
New Breed of Landowners  
American Farmland Trust