By: John Herlihy, Vice Chair California Rangeland Trust Board of Directors
As a rancher, I am continuously concerned about the future of our cattle operation and my family’s ability to remain in the livestock business. I think this is true for most ranchers and landowners in the ever changing livestock industry. For many years I was involved in agriculture financing with Yosemite Farm Credit and witnessed firsthand some off the pain and hurdles ranchers face trying to keep their land in the family and their operations viable.
Looming on the horizon at some point is the ongoing battle with and constant debate over the ever changing estate taxes. How will future generations pay a large estate tax bill that is based on a land value at its “highest and best use”, which someday may be vineyards, walnuts, almonds or God forbid another subdivision? The estate tax doesn’t take into consideration the habitat the land preserves as a working landscape, such as the contributions a working ranch makes to the local economy or resources the land provides like clean air, clean water, carbon sequestration and food security.
Though estate taxes are most often discussed when talking about a generational turnover, there are also other issues to consider. Some of those issues, for example, can the ranch sustain the eldest generation while allowing the next generation to come in and start the process of taking over? If that next generation is starting or currently has a family can the operation support both families? Can the eldest generation retire on the ranch that may have been in the family for a generation or more before?
These are questions ranchers face day to day. Luckily, there are several organizations working in the rancher’s best interest such as the local, state and national Cattlemen’s Associations who fight for the rancher to keep regulations in check and for favorable legislation at all levels. The industry programs like “Beef Check Off” and the beef councils also do a great job creating and sustaining demand for our beef products, by building markets and educating the public about the health benefits of our product and our industry.
However, there are also other organizations like California Rangeland Trust working to keep ranchers ranching. CRT is dedicated to keeping ranchers ranching through the use of conservation easements and other tools. Conservation easements are a voluntary agreement with a land trust that is a permanent action on the land to preserve rangeland. This tool can also provide for relief of some financial burdens, and may help keep the current and future generations in ranching, and can help keep urban sprawl from creeping into rangeland.
For those unfamiliar with conservation easements, they are a completely voluntary action on the part of the land owner to make an agreement with a land trust that the land will remain as grazing land and undeveloped forever or for what is termed “in perpetuity”. The conservation easement can either be donated to CRT or it can be purchased from the landowner.
So how does an easement help with the prior mentioned estate tax issues facing livestock landowners? With a permanent agreement (an easement) that the land cannot be developed, the land value is based as grazing land. This value is lower than most other property values and thus decreases property and estate taxes. And it also prevents the ranch from being subdivided or converted into more intensive agriculture.
A purchased easement may provide a rancher with an infusion of capital funds. Many of the ranchers that California Rangeland Trust has assisted with a purchased easement use the funds for future inheritance taxes, or to improve operations, or prepare for retirement.
Please remember that if you are considering an easement, be sure to consult legal counsel and/or your tax advisor.
There is a concern that a conservation easement means loss of control of the land and operation with the addition of more regulations. However that is not usually the case. CRT does not get involved with the management of the ranch. Once a year CRT will monitor the ranch to ensure that the agreed upon terms in the easement are being met.
California Rangeland Trust’s Board of Directors is comprised of ranchers who understand the values and needs of their fellow ranchers. CRT’s goal is not only to protect the land but to protect the ranching way of life and help ranchers pass the legacy down to future generations.
I joined the California Rangeland Trust Board of Directors because the organization truly understands the aspects of ranching, including the business, the day to day operations and its relationship and stewardship of the health of the land and its diverse wildlife and native plant species. With 120 families on the organizations waiting list to proceed with an easement, it is exciting to be on the Board of Directors and help guide the organization to meet funding needs so those families can achieve preserving their land and continue ranching way of life for generations to come.
by the staff of the California Rangeland Trust, Sacramento
About 14 years ago, a group of cattlemen and cattlewomen sat at a table discussing the need for a non-profit agricultural conservation organization that they could trust to work collaboratively to tell the story of why ranching is relevant to the urban populations of California and find tools to preserve rangelands in the state. Today, ranching is viewed as a multi-dimensional method to maintain California’s ecological and cultural heritage, because ranches maintain viable agriculture land, diverse ecosystems and provide urban populations with clean air, clean water and food security.
As the population continues to rise, urban sprawl is putting pressure on the open spaces adjacent to California’s ranches. Many ranches now overlook cityscapes and are under pressure of development. However, ranchers are not the only ones under pressure from urban sprawl. The open space provided by ranches is essential to the survival of many species of special concern, and provides quality drinking water to urban areas. Rangeland conservation is also generating the attention of some Bay Area public agencies which are recognizing that by protecting the upstream supply of water, they can ensure clean water to the Bay Area population in the future.
“We have to be realistic about how to maintain the most habitat and how to manage these lands to support the most species,” said Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) District Conservationist Alyson Aquino, Livermore. “Grazing brings together an appropriate management technique for our rangelands with the ability for ranchers to make a living. Grazing allows the land to be useable and to be productive, which is one of the most realistic types of preservation.”
The Koopmann Ranch, owned by Tim Koopmann, Sunol, is a prime example of a ranch in close proximity to urban areas. Parts of Koopmann’s ranch boarder a golf course and overlook the urban area of Livermore. Koopmann put a conservation easement on his ranch through the California Rangeland Trust and worked with the NRCS to establish a conservation management plan in effort to preserve the open space of his ranch and continue his beef production.
Rangelands are an important refuge for wildlife that are being increasingly pushed beyond expanding city limits. California’s rangelands are home to many species of special concern including the California Tiger Salamander, San Joaquin Kit Fox along with native wildflowers and endemic plants.
“To me, wildlife habitat is an indicator of the successful way you are managing the ranch,” said Koopmann. His ranch demonstrates this by the abundance of wildlife that calls it home including the California Tiger Salamander, California Red Legged Frog and Callipine Silverspot Butterfly.
“Ranchers like Tim Koopmann are extremely rewarding to work with because they understand the balance between the economic requirements of a cattle operation and their genuine appreciation for the land,” said Aquino. “Decisions are based on many priorities, not just a short-term financial investment.”
As rural land and ranches are converted to non-productive uses and populations continue to rise, food security is a growing concern. Will we be able to produce enough food for a projected population of 9 billion in 2050? That is a question commonly talked about in the agriculture world. Cattle production and the number of ranchers choosing to carry on the legacy of ranching are continuing to fall. This adds to the greater concern for food security.
In order to keep the inevitable growth pressures focused in cities and to sustainably support the growing population in California, groups with different interests will need to bridge their differences and work collaboratively in the upcoming years. As the science increasingly supports the work that ranchers are doing, one of the California Rangeland Trust’s goals is to continue supporting ranchers in their role of land stewardship and sharing with government officials and environmental interest groups our success stories to create stronger collaboration towards our shared goals.
As summer heats up, so do the backyard grills. More and more, that sizzling steak or burger was purchased at a local farmers’ market, where the popularity of locally-sourced beef is continually increasing. The demand for beef raised locally and available at farmers markets or select retailers connects the consumer with the ranchers who raised the animals and cared for the land – a connection that is lost as generations become further removed from the farm.
Farmers markets bring together local farmers and ranchers to connect and converse with consumers. Over the past few years, California has experienced a growing “buy local” market trend, which encourages communities to purchase products from ranchers at farmers markets, community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs and grocery stores and restaurants.
As the high season for barbequing picks up, California Rangeland Trust reached out to Jack Rice, a northern California rancher from Davis, and California Rangeland Trust director to ask him what this trends means to the beef industry. Rice’s family are long time ranchers in the Humboldt County, area which has witnessed a strong locally-sourced agriculture trend. The area stretching down the Northern Coast of California is abundant with farmers’ markets, CSA’s and grocery stores and restaurants the feature local products
The demand for locally-grown food and a connection to the producer is prevalent. As Rice puts it, “People increasingly care about where their food comes from and how it is produced.”
For the agriculture industry in general, the demand for locally-sourced food is creating a shift in production, opening up niche markets like grass-fed, organic and all natural products. These markets are growing rapidly. According to a study conducted by UC Davis, Grass-fed beef alone accounted for 100,000 head of cattle in 2007, an increase from 65,000 head in 2006.
“It is important to recognize that the local, organic, grass fed and other niche beef markets are a complimentary part of the livestock industry and are not a substitute for conventional production,” Rice points out. “Niche markets offer producers the opportunity to increase profitability while also providing consumers the opportunity to gain a better understanding of where their food comes from and how it is produced. These niche markets build upon existing conventional livestock production which is the bedrock of both the livestock industry and the safest and most affordable beef supply in the world.”
From 2010 to 2011, the number of farmers’ markets operating in the United States rose 17 percent from 6,132 to 7,175. According to the United States Department of Agriculture study of local food system, in 2008, the direct marketed food industry, including farmers’ markets and sales from producer to restaurants and grocers, reached $4.8 billion and is expected to continue growing.
Within the umbrella of the direct marketed food industry is a growing segment of the locally-sourced beef industry. The USDA study of local food systems also found that from 2002 to 2007 the value of beef marketed directly to the consumer grew 84 percent from $77 million to $141 million.
“Most people want to know where their beef comes from and how it is raised. As an industry we need to recognize that these are shifts in demand and seek to take from them the lessons they contain. I believe the recent growth in local, organic and grass-fed markets provide useful information about consumer trends for both niche and conventional producers,” Rice observes.
As the population continues to increase and urban areas continue to spread to prime rangeland, it brings to light the need to conserve rangeland.
“As for consumer outreach, we benefit greatly from consumers understanding that healthy beef (commercial or organic) depends upon the sustainable use of our rangelands. This is a great message for California Rangeland Trust, the beef industry and all of agriculture to take to our consumers and our neighbors,” says Rice.
Farmers markets and direct farmer-to-consumer marketing gives producers and consumers a chance to interact with one another. This creates an opportunity for the consumer to learn about food production from the producers themselves. It provides producers a chance to tell their story and educate consumers about the necessity of productive rangelands not only for beef production, but for essentials like fresh air and clean water provided by these working ranches.
Ultimately, whether it is the family barbeque, the ranching culture or the working rangelands, they all represent important American traditions. The opportunity to share these values with consumers is as great as it has ever been. California ranchers are proud to share their stories and promote this heritage. The Rangeland Trust is doing its part to ensure that the essential rangelands needed for livestock production to meet this increasing demand are conserved for future generations.