From 1992 to 2001 the most notable land use trend was the conversion of native rangelands and croplands to nonnative "improved pastures." This represents a significant loss of important wildlife habitats, especially in the central and eastern portions of the state. Trends in land use are associated with changes in ownership size. Areas that remain in large ranches (more than 2,000 acres), are more likely to remain native rangelands. In areas of mid-sized farms (500 to 2,000 acres), cropland is more likely to remain as cropland. In areas fragmented into smaller farms and ranches (less than 500 acres), lands are more likely to be converted to nonnative pastures. The strength of these trends depends on the ecological region. It seems likely that land use conversions will continue to deplete the habitats of native wildlife, especially those animals that depend on native grasslands in the eastern and central portions of the state.
In 2001 the average appraised market value of farm and ranch land in Texas was $624 per acre. Values have increased at an average annual rate of 2.7 percent since 1992. Market values are highest in the areas surrounding the major metropolitan areas of Dallas-Fort Worth, San Antonio, Austin, Houston, El Paso and Brownsville. From 1992 to 2001 market values increased dramatically in the central portion of the state–86 percent in the Llano Uplift and more than 50 percent in the Edwards Plateau. Areas along the Gulf Coast had significant declines in market value. Some rural lands surrounding Houston, for example, declined in market value by 8 to 12 percent.
In 2001 the average agricultural value for farm and ranch land was $80 per acre. Valuations were closely related to ecological region, with the highest values in the East Texas Piney Woods and the lowest in the west. Since 1992 average statewide agricultural values have increased by only 0.4 percent annually.
The trend in the portion of total appraised land value not accounted for by agricultural value–the “nonagricultural” land value (consisting of recreational and development value)–is a relatively good predictor of trends in land fragmentation. Trends in this predictor suggest that some rural areas in the Panhandle and north-central Texas may soon face land fragmentation pressures. Our work shows that there is a relationship between nonagricultural value and the break-up of larger farms and ranches. The nonagricultural component of appraised land values can be used as an early indicator of potential land fragmentation. Some land fragmentation might be avoided by offering landowners financial incentives not to sell or subdivide their lands, or by providing them with ways of transferring property without subdividing it.
Privately owned rural lands in Texas make up 84 percent of our state. Thus, land use in Texas has historically been dominated by farming, ranching and timber production. These are working lands that produce agricultural commodities, support rural economies, provide wildlife habitat, and offer recreational opportunities for Texans. These lands include historic family ranches rich with history, tradition and legend. Much of the native flora and fauna on these lands is of national and even international significance.
Rural lands in Texas are undergoing a fundamental change, one that has implications for our rural economies, our agricultural security, and the conservation of our natural resources. Our natural landscape is increasingly threatened by suburbanization, rural development, and land fragmentation. According to the U. S. Department of Agriculture, from 1982 to 1997 more than 2.2 million acres of rural land in Texas was converted to urban uses, and the annual rate of conversion from 1992-97 was nearly 30 percent higher than in the previous 10 years. Texas leads all other states in the loss of rural farming and ranching lands.
Millions more rural acres become fragmented as large properties are divided into smaller parcels. These properties are too small for traditional farming, ranching and forestry uses so they no longer contribute as much to rural economies. Land fragmentation also leads to the loss of open space, a decline in wildlife habitat, water quality problems caused by increased erosion and run-off, and a higher demand for county services in rural areas. Land fragmentation is the single greatest threat to wildlife and the long-term viability of agriculture in Texas.
Small ownerships. About 78 percent of Texas farms and ranches are smaller than 500 acres, but their total area makes up only 14 percent of the state. About 42 percent of all Texas farms and ranches are less than 100 acres in size, but these operations account for only 2 percent of the state's rural lands. Farms and ranches less than 100 acres are confined largely to the eastern one-third of the state. In recent years the number of small ownerships has increased by more than 80,000 acres per year. Operations ranging from 100 to 500 acres are concentrated in the forested regions of East Texas and dominate the landscape in many of the nonindustrial private forestlands of the Piney Woods.
Mid-sized ownerships. Ownerships of 500 to 2,000 acres account for about 23 percent of the state's rural land. This is the dominant property size in many major row crop areas, including the High Plains. The number of mid-sized properties has declined dramatically in recent years. Every year, about 250,000 acres of mid-sized farms and ranches are lost. They are either subdivided into smaller ownerships or consolidated into larger farms and ranches.
Large ownerships. Most Texas farm and ranch acreage (63 percent) is in ownerships of 2,000 acres or more, but only 6 percent of properties are in this size category. The number of large ownerships varies greatly from one region to another, from 98 percent of rural land in the Trans Pecos to only 20 percent of rural land in the Piney Woods of East Texas. The fragmentation of large ownerships also varies by ecoregion. The Trans Pecos, Edwards Plateau , South Texas Brush Country and Coastal Sand Plains are all dominated by large ownerships but these areas, combined, have been losing more than 235,000 acres of large ownerships each year. Other regions have varying levels of localized fragmentation, but the trend there is consolidation into larger ownerships, at a rate of about 318,000 acres per year. If the historical rate of change continues for the next 2 decades, the consequence will be greater land fragmentation in the south, central and east-central portions of the state and the consolidation of some ownerships in portions of the High Plains. A set of maps and figures accompanying this report provides a ranking of those areas most "at risk" for fragmentation of larger ownerships should historical trends continue.
Are trends in ownership sizes related to trends in land use? They seem to be. If so, the result could be long-term, large-scale changes in the state's rural landscape. Such changes will influence not only wildlife habitats, but also wildlife-related recreational enterprises (e.g., hunting) and rural economies.
For all 254 counties, we compared farm and ranch ownership sizes to the proportion of the county in various major land uses. We looked at these relationships at both the state and regional levels. There are significant statistical relationships between farm and ranch size and major categories of land use.
In general, the more small ownerships (<500 acres) there are, the less native rangeland and cropland there is and the more improved pasture and forestland. While much of this variation is due to the differences among ecological regions, there are some important relationships within those regions.
(Produced by Agricultural Communications,The Texas A&M University System
Extension publications can be found on the Web at: http://texaserc.tamu.edu)