Conservation Matters October 2014

The Texas Land, Water and Wildlife Connection

New Texas Land Trends report shows decline in rural working land acreage

By Kathy Wythe

New Texas Land Trends report shows decline in rural working land acreage

Texas experienced a net loss of nearly 1.1 million acres of privately owned farms, ranches and forests from 1997 to 2012, continuing the trend of rural land conversion and fragmentation in Texas, according to a new Texas Land Trends report released by the Texas A&M Institute of Renewable Natural Resources (IRNR).

“More than 54 percent of this land conversion was related to development associated with population expansion in the state’s 25 fastest growing counties,” said Dr. Roel Lopez, IRNR’s director and a co-author of the report. “From 1997 to 2012, approximately 590,000 acres were lost from the agricultural land base in these counties.”

Developed by the institute, Texas Land Trends is an interactive website and database that consolidates and analyzes data about property values, land use, land ownership size and population growth in the state.

Primary data sources for Texas Land Trends are the Texas State Comptroller of Public Accounts and the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service’s Census of Agriculture. Data from the U.S. Census Bureau, USDA National Resources Inventory and the U.S. Department of Commerce Bureau of Economic Analysis–Regional Economic Information System is also used. Reports are published every five years, following release of the Census of Agricultural data.

IRNR recently analyzed the 2012 data and published the first in a series of reports based on the new information. Status update and trends of Texas rural working lands is a 5-year trends update on Texas rural working lands. Future reports will examine the status of Texas lands from the perspective of key issues, such as water and energy.

The new data will be incorporated into the interactive website by early 2015.

Lopez said the analysis of the new data showed that privately owned farms, ranches and forests account for 83 percent of the land in Texas and are increasingly threatened by suburbanization, rural development and land fragmentation driven by rapid population growth

“This dramatic loss and fragmentation of privately owned farms, ranches and forests — also known as working lands — is affecting the state’s rural economies,” he said. “The conservation of water and other natural resources is also being affected, as is the nation’s national security and food security.”

The report also highlights the state’s land values. Todd Snelgrove, IRNR’s associate director and a co-author of the report, said in 2012 the average appraised market value of Texas working land was $1,573 per acre, a 36-percent increase since 2007 and a 214-percent increase over the 15-year period. “The largest increases in land values were observed surrounding major metropolitan growth areas,” he said.

Snelgrove said the goal of Texas Land Trends is to provide public and private decision-makers with information needed to plan for the conservation of Texas working lands.

“Texas Land Trends is a critically important data source for policy makers, conservation organizations, state agencies and federal agencies in terms of looking at what is happening to our land base in Texas,” he said.

Blair Fitzsimons, chief operating officer for the Texas Agricultural Land Trust (TALT), agreed.

“Farms, ranches and forests in Texas are undergoing a fundamental change, and Texas Land Trends provides a valuable source of information for anyone in the natural resources community,” she said.

“Through Texas Land Trends, we have been able to raise awareness that ‘Yes, we have a lot of land in Texas,’ but we are losing it at a faster rate than most other states in the country, and that loss is having profound impacts on our agricultural base, our water resources and our native wildlife habitat,” Fitzsimons said.

The new report and a fact sheet are available on the redesigned Texas Land Trends website. As new reports are issued, they will be available online.

Texas Land Trends was developed in cooperation with Texas A&M AgriLife Research, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service and TALT. It was funded by the Meadows Foundation, Houston Endowment, Mitchell Foundation, Hershey Foundation and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.

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