Land sales have big impact on ag economy

The hope is the land will remain in agriculture, supporting ranchers, farmers and the economy.

Published on May 18, 2017 10:37AM

The 8,000-acre Murtha Ranch along the John Day River near Condon, Ore., was purchased by the Western Rivers Conservancy for $7.9 million. The group sold it for the same price to the Oregon State Parks Department, which developed it into Cottonwood Canyon State Park. As a nod to traditional uses, hunting and fishing is allowed, and state officials are developing a grazing plan that may be put into effect next spring.

Eric Mortenson/Capital Press

The 8,000-acre Murtha Ranch along the John Day River near Condon, Ore., was purchased by the Western Rivers Conservancy for $7.9 million. The group sold it for the same price to the Oregon State Parks Department, which developed it into Cottonwood Canyon State Park. As a nod to traditional uses, hunting and fishing is allowed, and state officials are developing a grazing plan that may be put into effect next spring.

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There’s more to an agricultural land sale than a willing buyer and a willing seller.

A farm or ranch changing hands can impact neighbors and the local economy almost as much as the parties directly involved.

That’s why when ag land goes up for sale it’s a big deal — far more important than just dollars and cents.

Last week, reporter Eric Mortenson took a look at the sale of agricultural land across Oregon. What he found was the price of exclusive farm use land — a designation used by the state to identify the best ag land — has skyrocketed in recent years as it changed hands. Some remained orchards, vineyards, farms or ranchland, but other tracts were taken out of production for a variety of purposes including conservation, recreation and even a state park.

In each case, the sale can have a profound impact. Some examples:

• Neighboring farmers and ranchers see the price of expansion increasing, potentially beyond their means. At the same time, the comparable value of their land continues to grow, impacting their finances.

• The area where the state purchased ranchland for conversion to a state park has seen mixed impacts. Neighbors have seen the pool of grazing land shrink, but nearby towns have seen the number of visitors increase.

Overall, the biggest impact is when land is taken out of production.

Because agricultural land is more than real estate, buyers and sellers need to take the local economy into account.

For example, taking vast swaths of ranchland out of production will impact other ranchers and their ability to graze livestock. If livestock is no longer raised, that will impact the economy. Equipment will no long be bought or serviced in nearby towns. Seed and fertilizer dealers will see the number of customers shrink. Cattle will no longer go to market, impacting livestock auctions.

Considering that the average age of farmers across the West is about 60, what happens when agricultural land changes hands takes on added importance.

Whether land stays in the family or is sold to absentee landowners, how it is used profoundly impacts the region.

Overall, the best case scenario is the land will remain in agriculture, supporting ranchers, farmers and the economy.

Whether, or how, that can be mandated will remain a continuing debate across the West.



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