Thursday, May 18, 2017

Oregon ag land selling at fast pace; ramifications unclear

Diane Daggett remembers the conversation with the woman who had just purchased the Daggett family’s 440-acre cattle ranch in Northeast Oregon’s Wallowa County, land that had been in the family for four generations. The buyer said she had called her husband, who was aboard their yacht in the Cayman Islands, to share the news. “Honey,” the woman said she’d told him, “I just bought the most amazing birthday gift for you.” And the land, sold by Daggett’s step-mother for what Daggett figures was three times what it could generate as a cattle ranch, slipped from the family’s grasp. Now it lies behind a locked gate. Variations of that story are playing out across Oregon and other states as farm and ranch land changes hands, sometimes by thousands of acres at a time. Some buyers are fellow farmers who are expanding their operations under the mantra of “get big or get out.” But other buyers include investment firms, wind energy developers, conservation organizations, companies that fit the description of “Big Ag” and wealthy individuals looking to establish private hunting reserves or vacation retreats. The impact is unclear at this point, but the primary worry is about ag land being taken out of production. Jim Johnson, the Oregon Department of Agriculture’s land-use and water planning coordinator, said ag land conversion is a concern especially in areas with “amenity values.” Daggett’s scenic Wallowa County is an example, “Where the primary reason to live out there is to be there, and the secondary reason is to farm,” Johnson said. Ag property purchased to be a recreational site, he said, inflates land values and makes it more expensive for farmers and ranchers to buy or rent. New owners who aren’t interested in farming themselves might gain more revenue by enrolling land in the federal Conservation Reserve Program, in which they receive payments for taking it out of production, rather than leasing crop land to other farmers, said Walter Powell, a Condon, Ore., wheat farmer. In that case, there’s a reduction to the farming infrastructure: the seed and fertilizer dealer, the equipment store, local employment and more, Powell said...more

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