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Cash, Grass or…Cows?

We have a new lessee running cattle out at the farm. He has, what I think are, very aggressive ideas about what “improvements” need to be made to our property (hybrid grasses, city water piped to troughs, spraying the weeds).

Calves with loblolly pines.

America’s. Next. Top. Moo-del is…

We told him upfront that spraying was not an option, but already, he’s tilled up tens of acres and planted annual rye grass, with the intention of planting Coastal bermudagrass this Spring. Since minimizing property taxes is the main reason we currently have a lessee, I think we need to look at other alternatives that are more in-line with our long-term goals.

The alternative I’m currently researching is converting our current tax valuation from “traditional” agricultural practices to “wildlife management” practices. Doing this would mean that we wouldn’t have to have a lessee in order to keep the taxes low. “Traditional” agricultural practices require that we stock cattle based on income derived from stocking at traditional intensity rates, meaning you have to keep as many cattle on your land as all the other guys who are trying to make money from it and it alone. Changing to “wildlife management” practices mainly means not having to keep the land available to that one “traditional” income source. Instead, we could have some cattle, some timber stands, and some orchards — none of which would need to support us on its own in order to maintain the tax valuation.

From the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Comprehensive Wildlife Management Planning Guide:

“The Texas Constitution and the legislature provides those landowners with a current 1-d-1 Agricultural Valuation (often known as an Ag Exemption) an opportunity to change from a traditional qualifying agricultural practice to wildlife management as a qualifying agricultural practice while maintaining the current valuation. HB 1358 by Representative Clyde Alexander provided that the landowner must implement and complete at least one management practice from at least three of the seven wildlife management activities listed in Appendix A. Most landowners interested in wildlife can meet this requirement, and implement several practices beyond the minimum required.”

We would definitely be able to “implement several practices beyond the minimum required” — the practices include activities like pond construction, gully shaping, plant establishment in critical areas, and grazing management. I have contacted a Bastrop County TP&WD Wildlife biologist to schedule an evaluation and start moving forward with a management plan.

In the meantime, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s private land website has an unbelievable amount of useful information on this subject. I’ve only linked to a small portion of what’s available below: