Farmland Investments Take Root TIAA-CREF gets $3 billion for new cropland fund; ‘gold with a coupon’

IMG_3052Farmland is attracting growing interest from pension plans, hedge funds and even mom-and-pop investors as they seek to diversify assets and capitalize on an agriculture-industry slump that has pushed down land prices in some regions.

Financial-services giant TIAA-CREF announced Tuesday that it has raised $3 billion for its second global farmland-investment partnership, exceeding its initial target of $2.5 billion. The fund, which will invest in North and South America and Australia, has lined up commitments from institutional investors, including the New Mexico State Investment Council and the U.K.’s Greater Manchester Pension Fund.

TIAA-CREF’s fund marks one of the biggest in a recent wave of cropland investments by institutional investors. Meanwhile, several U.S. public-stock offerings by farmland owners who have packaged their property as real-estate investment trusts, or REITs, are enabling retail investors to place bets on the sector as well.

Investors are betting farmland will yield good long-term returns as global food demand rises with growing populations and wealth in Asia, Africa and elsewhere. The amount of arable land is expected to increase only modestly, at best, due to urbanization and a lack of acreage suitable for crops.

Farmland is part of a broader push by investors into “real” assets—physical property including office buildings, bridges and timber—which typically trade at a low correlation with traditional stocks and bonds. Farmland also generates income from rent paid by farmers, leading some to call it “gold with a coupon.”

One of the attractions is “these are assets that are producing an essential need for society and, in many cases, into perpetuity,” said Jose Minaya, senior managing director at TIAA-CREF Asset Management.

TIAA-CREF, which has managed retirement assets for employees of universities and nonprofits for decades, began investing in farmland in 2007 and now manages more than $5 billion in farmland assets world-wide, Mr. Minaya said. It raised $2 billion in commitments for its earlier global farmland partnership.

Homestead Capital USA LLC, a private-investment partnership led by former executives at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., last month closed on its first farmland-investment fund, raising $173 million. Among its investors are the University of Alabama—making its first investment in cropland—and the Teacher Retirement System of Texas.

American Farmland Co., led by executives from Optima Fund Management, a firm that invests in hedge funds, in June filed plans to raise up to $100 million in an initial public offering for its REIT. It would be the third farmland-focused public REIT, joining Farmland Partners Inc., which went public last year, and Gladstone Land Corp. , which did so in 2013.

Institutional investment in farmland in the U.S., the world’s biggest exporter of agricultural commodities, has topped $2 billion over the past two years, according to iiSearches, a data arm of media firm Institutional Investor. While institutional ownership accounts for less than 1% of the $2.4 trillion U.S. farm real-estate market, according to University of Illinois economist Bruce Sherrick, institutional investors are likely to play a greater role, in part because many U.S. farmers—whose average age is 58, according to federal data—are nearing retirement.

U.S. farmland capital values have risen on average 4.6% annually since 1990, according to an index from the National Council of Real Estate Investment Fiduciaries. Including the income generated from land, the average return has been 11.8%.

Farmland values in the Midwest—the main U.S. crop-production region—rose sharply for most of the past decade, fueled by soaring crop prices. Lately, though, the values have cooled amid a three-year slump in grain and soybean prices driven by bumper harvests. Average farmland values dropped 9% last year in Iowa, the biggest corn producer, according to Iowa State University. Values in Illinois, the top soybean producer, dropped 1% to 3%, according to the Illinois Society of Professional Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers.

Softer farmland values are creating buying opportunities, said Paul Pittman, chief executive of Farmland Partners and a former investment banker. “A little bit of pain in farm country makes our job easier,” he said.

But farmland also carries risks. Some landholders in the Midwest have had to reduce rents as their farmer tenants grapple with lower incomes. It isn’t clear when U.S. grain prices will rebound, which in turn would help prompt a recovery in Midwest land prices.

Analysts said retail investors should tread carefully with farmland REITs. The stocks so far have small market values and light trading volumes, and have been buffeted by concerns over the weak agricultural economy. Farmland Partners shares are down 21% from its IPO, while Gladstone Land is down 35%.

Mr. Pittman said he is confident Farmland Partners can grow profits—but that farmland is for patient investors, not those seeking rapid growth. “Farmland is the tortoise in a tortoise and hare race,” he said.

Based in Denver, Farmland Partners owns about 71,000 acres of cropland, up from 7,300 when it went public. It generates income by renting land to family farmers.

Farmland Partners and other newer buyers are making many of their investments outside the Midwest, in regions such as the southeastern U.S., the Mississippi Delta and the Mountain West. Land tends to be cheaper in these regions, and infrastructure such as modern irrigation and drainage systems isn’t as prevalent, creating opportunities to make improvements and generate higher returns, investors say.

Companies including Farmland Partners and Homestead Capital also are investing in land where permanent crops such as citrus fruits and nuts are grown—providing an alternative revenue stream to land tied to volatile commodity crops such as corn.

Investing successfully in farmland can be difficult. The market often is opaque and hyperlocal, professional investors say, with deals sealed privately in rural cafes or in small-town auctions, unlike more structured asset classes including residential or commercial real estate. Farmland sales and price data also are far more limited than in other real-estate segments, though more companies are working to increase the availability of such information.

“There’s a lot of money looking for a relatively limited supply of tradable land,” said Sid Gorham, CEO of Granular Inc., an agricultural-software company that recently acquired AcreValue, a map-based tool designed to help farmers and investors value an acre of farmland. [Wall Street Journal)


Revenue Generating Recreational Hunting Property

Why lease hunting land that you have limited or no management control over and that may be here today and gone tomorrow? Why not buy your own hunting property that you have full control over, can manage the way you want, and that you can build financial equity in? Owning your very own hunting property is a more realistic dream than most people think. By focusing on a property that produces income as well as recreation, you can make recreational hunting property ownership work for you. Income produced from the property can help pay for the land, annual operation and maintenance costs, and improvements. Here are just a few of the many ways to generate revenue on hunting property:

Agricultural Crop Lease – Properties located in agricultural areas and that are suitable for crop production can be leased out for farming. In addition to providing a source of income, lease farming can also provide supplemental wildlife food resources and help maintain the property. The farming rights on these lands are typically leased out at a flat rate per acre or on a crop-share basis.

Cattle Grazing Lease – If properly managed, cattle grazing leases can be a valuable wildlife habitat management tool. However, if not managed properly cattle grazing can also be a detriment to your wildlife management goals and objectives. Always insure that proper stocking rates and best management practices are followed for your particular area. Steer clear of lease agreements that allow lessees to plant improved grasses on your hunting land. These improved varieties of grasses have little or no wildlife value and should be avoided at all cost. Cattle grazing rights are typically leased out at a flat rate per acre.

Haying Lease – Hay production during the summer months is another good source of revenue that can also provide beneficial management and maintenance of the land. Timing of the hay cutting and rotation of fields must be properly planned to insure that ground nesting birds and other wildlife management objectives are not adversely impacted. Hay leases are typically based on a flat rate per acre or a percentage of the profits from the hay production.

USDA Farm Bill Programs – Consider enrolling the land, or a portion of the land, into a farm bill program that provides annual payments for beneficial conservation practices. These programs are administered by the United States Department of Agriculture and some provide cost share for conservation improvements as well as direct annual payments. The programs are focused on conservation of natural resources including wildlife habitat. Cost-share is typically calculated on a percentage of the total expense, with direct annual payments based on a flat rate per acre.

Treating your recreational hunting property as a business can significantly decrease the cost of ownership. The key is to incorporate a revenue stream from secondary activities that are compatible with your long term wildlife habitat management goals and objectives. This article discusses just a few of the potential income producing possibilities, but there are many more. With a little creativity and planning, your hunting property can work for you while you sit back and enjoy it.

Ed Ritter
Owner / Certified Wildlife Biologist / Licensed Real Estate Broker
Wildlife Management Enterprises, L.L.C.

Developing Waterfowl Habitat on Farm, Ranch, and Recreational Hunting Properties

IMG_1796Developing waterfowl habitat on your farm, ranch, or recreational hunting property is probably one of the most cost-effective and rewarding types of wildlife habitat development there is. If properly planned out and implemented the fruits of your labor can be experienced in a relatively short amount of time, in some cases within the same year. In terms of most other types of wildlife habitat development that’s “warp” speed. First a basic understanding of the habitat and foraging requirements for waterfowl is in order.

Quality waterfowl habitat must provide water, food, and shelter. Ducks are divided into two major groups, dabbling ducks (dabblers) and diving ducks (divers). Dabblers include species like northern pintail, blue-winged teal, green-winged teal, mottled duck, gadwall, wigeon, mallard, and northern shoveler. These species forage for food on the water surface or by tipping up to feed just below the surface. The optimal foraging depth for dabblers is 6″ – 12″. Divers include species like redhead, canvasback, ring-neck, lesser and greater scaup, goldeneye, and ruddy duck. These species dive beneath the waters surface to forage on the bottom or on submergent vegetation. Typically the cost of constructing large deep impoundments precludes developing diving duck habitat. In addition, most shallow water impoundments are readily utilized by diving ducks as well.

Most recreational hunting properties with hydrology that has been altered or modified by agriculture lend themselves well to development of quality waterfowl habitat. These areas typically have some, if not most, of the infrastructure such as water delivery systems already in place. Areas that are poorly drained and with a reliable water source to allow shallow winter flooding are well suited for waterfowl habitat development. Land that contains clay or silty clay loam soils are best suited because they compact well, creating a tight seal when flooded with little or no seepage.

IMG_0946Waterfowl habitat development on most recreational hunting lands will typically always require the construction of levees and proper design and placement of water control structures to replicate natural hydrologic regimes. Levees and water control structures should be designed based on topography to maximize the amount of flooded habitat at optimal foraging depths. A detailed topographic survey will help determine proper placement of levees, water-delivery and water discharge systems, and ultimately determine the optimal size of the wetland.

Longevity and maintenance are the most important considerations when constructing levees on recreational hunting land. Permanent levees that are designed to withstand fluctuating climatic conditions will ensure long-term integrity of levees with minimal maintenance. The increased initial investment in time and money to properly construct permanent levees will save time and money over the long run. Only soils with a high clay content should be utilized for levee construction. All woody and herbaceous vegetation should be removed from the levee right-of-way and borrow area (area adjacent to levee where soil for levee will be taken) prior to construction. A clean surface free of vegetation is necessary to assure a tight seal is formed between the ground and fill material to prevent seepage.

The width and height of levees is dependent on the size of the impoundment and specific management objectives. Large impoundments (>20acres) may be subjected to severe wave action and erosion and consequently may require more substantial levees. Depending on the size of the impoundment, the height of levees should be constructed with 1 – 2 foot of free-board (the height of the levee above the maximum designed water level). The initial fill height of the levee should be 10 percent higher than the finished levee to allow for shrinkage. Levees should be constructed with a minimum crown width of 6 – 8 feet. If levees will support vehicular traffic a 10 foot minimum crown width should be utilized. Levees should be constructed with a minimum 4:1 side slope (the width of the levee extends 4 feet from the edge of the crown for each foot of elevation) to provide easy and safe operating conditions for mowing the levee.

Foerster Unit 1 WCSOne of the most critical components of any managed waterfowl impoundment on recreational hunting property is an efficient water control structure. Successful waterfowl habitat management requires the ability to maintain water at precise depths and discharge water in precise increments to make forage available to waterfowl, to encourage establishment of preferred food plants, and to control undesirable vegetation. Water control structures come in a variety of different designs and are fabricated from a variety of different materials, each with its own advantages and limitations. Structures fabricated from aluminum tend to have a longer life span compared to other materials and work well for most applications.

The topography and size of the impoundment will determine the number of water control structures needed. Structures should be placed at the lowest elevation to allow complete removal of water from the impoundment when needed. Structures must be properly sized to assure that they adequately carry the runoff from the impounded watershed. Consideration should be given to locate structures where they can easily be accessed for management purposes with minimal disturbance to the impoundment.

The flash-board or stop-log water control structure is probably the most effective and widely used design. It allows precise incremental regulation of water through the addition and removal of flash-boards. Once the proper number of flash-boards are in place to maintain the desired water level, the structure is self-regulating. Excess storm flow above the desired water level is allowed to free flow over the top flash-board and out the discharge pipe, maintaining the impoundment at constant optimal water level.

Thousands of SnowsThere are a multitude of state, federal, and private grant programs available that offer funding for the development and management of waterfowl habitat on recreational hunting properties. By enlisting the services of a professional that is knowledgeable in both recreational hunting land and wildlife habitat development and management, you can ensure you take full advantage of these available funding opportunities and that your habitat development project is properly planned out and implemented. When properly planned out and implemented waterfowl habitat development on your farm, ranch, or recreational hunting property can be extremely rewarding, cost-effective, and substantially increase the value of your property.

Ed Ritter
Owner / Certified Wildlife Biologist / Real Estate Broker
Wildlife Management Enterprises, L.L.C.

Farm, Ranch, and Recreational Real Estate – Buyer Representation 101 – A Prerequisite

deer(4)Purchasing real estate is a major investment and certainly not one to be taken lightly. Anyone in the market to buy real estate should always be represented by their own qualified broker to insure that their best interests are protected. One should always remember that the listing broker has been hired by and is working for the seller. The listing broker’s fiduciary responsibility is to the seller. It is the listing brokers responsibility to protect the best interest of the seller and to sell their property to a buyer at the highest price possible.

Surprisingly, a large majority of buyers purchase real estate directly from the listing broker without being represented by their own qualified broker to protect their best interests. After all, when we go to make other major purchases such as buying a car, we simply go to a car dealer and work with one of the dealer’s sales agents. That car salesman is employed by the car dealership and rest assured, he is working to protect his or her best interest and that of his or her employer. When buying a car we don’t really have a choice. If we want a new car we must go directly to the dealer, however, when it comes to real estate we do have a choice. We have the ability and the right to hire our own qualified real estate broker that will be impartial and is not associated with the seller or the listing broker.

MallardsHiring your own buyer broker is your insurance that your best interests are protected. Buyer representation provides you with a professional real estate agent that works for you, with no fiduciary responsibility to the seller or the listing agent or broker. Your buyer agent can be invaluable in providing you with unbiased professional advice and information about a property’s quality, value, and potential to help you make informed decisions prior to making a purchase. A qualified buyer representative can also provide expertise in negotiating and can save you money when it comes time to negotiate on the purchase price or other concessions. And here is the best part, it doesn’t cost the buyer anything out-of-pocket. That’s right, the buyer’s broker commission is typically paid by the seller.

When buying a recreational hunting property it’s even more crucial that you have buyer representation. Recreational real estate is a specialized field requiring specialized expertise and knowledge of rural lands. That specialized expertise and knowledge may include knowledge of soils, water, native flora and fauna, agricultural practices, commodities, tax exemptions, wildlife habitat, and conservation and management practices, just to name a few. This is not exactly the kind of expertise and knowledge most real estate agents specializing in residential or commercial real estate possess.

south tx windmill at sunsetAlways remember that the listing broker was hired by and works for the seller. It just makes good business sense to hire your own representation to insure that your best interests are protected. Your buyer representative can handle most of the time-consuming leg work and provide you with unbiased professional advice and information about a property’s quality, value, and potential to help you make informed decisions prior to making a purchase. And last but not least, always make sure you select a brokerage firm that has the knowledge and expertise specific to the type of real estate that you are in the market for. By the way, did I mention there is no out-of-pocket expense to you the buyer?

Ed Ritter
Owner / Certified Wildlife Biologist / Licensed Real Estate Broker
Wildlife Management Enterprises, L.L.C.

Managing Native Food Plants for Waterfowl on Hunting Properties Along the Texas Gulf Coast

018Moist-soil management by popular definition is the manipulation of soil and water to encourage the establishment of desirable native waterfowl food plants adapted to growth in a wet environment. Moist-soil plants are higher in nutritional value, decompose at a slower rate when submerged underwater, and provide a greater diversity of waterfowl foods than small-grain agriculture. The low management costs associated with moist-soil management make it one of the most cost-effective and successful waterfowl management practices for hunting properties along the Texas Gulf Coast. Cost effectiveness in moist-soil management relies on the use of ecologically compatible strategies for promoting desirable native plant species and controlling undesirable plant species.

A diversity of native moist-soil plants beneficial to waterfowl and typically referred to as “weeds” by Texas rice producers are common along the Texas Rice Prairies of the Texas Gulf Coast. The seed-bank of most soils within the Rice Prairies contains an abundance of viable seeds capable of producing dense stands of desirable waterfowl foods that are native to the area. This holds true even for land that has previously been in row crops. Because different species or groups of moist-soil plants are adapted to different climatic conditions, production of waterfowl food is less effected by adverse weather conditions such as drought. Species such as barnyardgrass, smartweeds, and spikerushes produce well during wet conditions while species such as panic grasses and paspalum grasses do well during dry conditions.

Soil and water manipulations are the two most important components of moist-soil management. The timing of the annual draw-down of water from an impoundment plays a crucial role in determining plant species composition. Total seed production is usually greater on impoundments following early season draw-downs. However, mid and late season draw-downs generally favor production of millets and other grasses that produce seeds that are preferred by waterfowl. The availability of multiple impoundments on a hunting property allows for draw-downs at different times during the growing season, creating a balance of maximum productivity and diversity.

Unit 2The availability of water during both the growing season and during the winter period is critical for successful moist-soil management. For this reason it is imperative that moist-soil impoundments on hunting land have adequate watersheds and/or supplemental water sources. When possible multiple impoundments should be developed in an area to allow for water and soil manipulations to be rotated between impoundments to create habitat diversity. Impoundments at higher elevations may be developed to store water for subsequent irrigation and flooding of impoundments at lower elevations.

Flooding of moist-soil impoundments on hunting properties should typically begin in mid-August to late-September to provide habitat for early migrants such as blue-winged teal. When the manager has the benefit of multiple impoundments, flooding of some impoundments should be postponed and the impoundments reserved for later in the winter. Water levels should be increased gradually, exposing additional food resources as waterfowl numbers increase. In areas of dense vegetation it may be necessary to mow or roll down vegetation to expose pockets of open water to allow waterfowl access when flooded.

The Texas Gulf Coast has a long growing season that typically runs from early March to late November. This long growing season allows moist-soil plants to produce two or more seed crops per year. Annual rainfall in this region can be highly variable, with March being the driest month followed by July and August on average. Early season draw-downs should be performed during the first 45 days of the growing season from March 05 – April 18, mid-season draw-downs from April 19 – June 02, and late season draw-downs from June 03 – July 17. Ideally a management system incorporating multiple impoundments should vary draw-down dates among impoundments to achieve maximum plant diversity. As a general rule of thumb, mid to late season draw-downs tend to be most effective on the Texas Rice Prairies. A slow draw-down over a 2 – 3 week period in mid to late season usually produces vegetation of greater density and diversity than a fast draw-down.

Unit12aSeed production of desirable moist-soil plants tends to decrease and undesirable plant species tend to increase after 3 – 5 years. Woody species and other less desirable species can quickly take over and shade out more desirable waterfowl foods if left unmanaged. For this reason soil disturbance by disking, mowing, rolling, burning, or a combination of these prescriptions is necessary every few years to maintain the greatest productivity and plant diversity. Soil disturbance should be conducted early in the year to allow for seed germination within the same growing season.

Enlisting the services of a professional in wildlife habitat development and management can help you develop and implement a moist-soil management plan conducive to your particular hunting property. We’re all familiar with the old cliche “build it and they will come”. When it comes to waterfowl habitat management on recreational hunting land I like to say “set the table, ring the dinner bell, and they will come”. Moist-soil management is hands down the most successful and cost-effective method of attracting more waterfowl to your recreational hunting property.

Ed Ritter
Owner / Certified Wildlife Biologist / Licensed Real Estate Broker
Wildlife Management Enterprises, L.L.C.

Farm, Ranch, and Recreational Hunting Property for Waterfowl Along the Texas Gulf Coast

Along the Texas Gulf Coast lies a broad coastal plain that extends up to 80 miles inland and encompasses over 9.5 million acres. This ecologically important geographic area is commonly referred to as the Texas Coastal Prairies and it provides important habitat for one of the largest winter concentrations of waterfowl in all of North America. Historically this regions flat topography was dominated by tall prairie grasses interspersed with a mosaic of natural ponds or “potholes”. During years of average to above average rainfall these natural potholes were inundated, providing habitat for ducks and other wetland dependent wildlife.

The flat topography and long 270-day growing season of this region made it well suited for agricultural production of rice. Rice soon became the primary crop with rice-pasture rotations and rice-rotation crops such as milo and soybeans becoming standard agricultural practice by the 1960′s. Production of rice in Texas is limited to the southeastern Gulf Coast; an area commonly referred to as the Rice Prairies or Texas Rice Belt. This area encompasses 18 counties between the Guadalupe River in the southwest and Sabine River in the southeast. There are 10 distinct prairies ranging in size from 195 to 1,160 square miles located within the Texas Rice Belt. In most years this region winters over 2 million snow geese and 1.5 million ducks making it one of the top destinations in the U.S. for waterfowl hunting enthusiasts.

The rice prairies of the Texas Gulf Coast have long been an important wintering ground for waterfowl migrating down the Central Flyway. The infrastructure utilized for rice agriculture make the Texas Rice Belt well suited for development of recreational hunting property and waterfowl management. Harvested rice fields inundated during wet cycles or by mechanical means provides a food source that waterfowl quickly exploit. When properly managed residual rice grain left after harvest provides waterfowl with a dependable high-energy food source. In addition, fallow, set-aside, and retired rice fields can easily and economically be converted to waterfowl impoundments managed exclusively for native moist soil vegetation. These native grasses, sedges, rushes, and smartweeds typically referred to as “weeds” by Texas rice producers are high in protein and make up an important food resource for waterfowl.

The greatest potential for developing hunting properties for waterfowl management exists in areas where wetland hydrology has been altered or modified by agriculture. Areas that are poorly drained with a reliable water source to allow shallow winter flooding are well suited for waterfowl management. Land with clay or silty clay loam soils are best suited for development of waterfowl impoundments because these soils compact well, creating a tight seal when flooded. Water and soil dynamics play an important role in determining habitat condition and utilization by waterfowl. Food resources must be provided in a manner that makes them available to waterfowl. Impoundments that are shallowly flooded (6″ – 12″) place food within the forage zone of the greatest number of waterfowl species as well as other wetland dependent wildlife.

Development of hunting properties for waterfowl management typically requires the construction of levees and proper placement of water control structure devices to replicate natural hydrologic regimes. Levees and water control structures should be designed based on topography to maximize the amount of flooded habitat at optimal foraging depths. A detailed topographic survey will help determine proper placement of levees, water-delivery and water-discharge systems, and ultimately determine the optimal size of the wetland.

There are a multitude of state, federal, and private grant programs available in Texas that provide funding for restoration, enhancement, and management of waterfowl habitat on recreational hunting property. By enlisting the services of a professional that is knowledgeable in both recreational hunting land and wildlife habitat development and management, you can ensure you find the right property and take full advantage of these available funding opportunities. If you’re in the market to find your very own waterfowl hunting property you owe it to yourself to take a look at the Texas Coastal Prairie. As they say, “everything is bigger and better in Texas”.

Ed Ritter
Owner / Certified Wildlife Biologist / Licensed Real Estate Broker
Wildlife Management Enterprises, L.L.C.

Investing in Farm, Ranch, and Recreational Hunting Property in Texas – A Solid Investment

deer(4)Texans have a deep rooted passion for hunting and wildlife-related outdoor recreation. According to a comprehensive report conducted by a private economics and statistics firm, over 6 million people participate in some type of wildlife-related recreation in Texas each year. Expenditures in pursuit of these outdoor activities generates over $8.16 billion annually. The total economic impact to the Texas economy resulting from direct and indirect expenditures from wildlife-related outdoor recreation in Texas is a staggering $15.8 billion.

Over 94% of all land in Texas is under private ownership, with very limited recreational hunting opportunities available on public land. If you want to hunt in Texas you must either own your own hunting property, know someone that does who will allow you use of their property, lease hunting rights, or hunt with an outfitter or hunting guide. Quality hunting leases, outfitters, and guides are becoming harder and harder to find across the state of Texas and the cost of these services has increased substantially over the last 10 years.

Pintails Near TreesThe Texas landscape is dynamic and rapidly changing. Population growth is rapidly expanding and encroaching into the surrounding suburban areas, while at the same time the Texas Agricultural Industry has undergone a rapid and significant decline. This population growth is most significant in the major metropolitan areas of Houston, Austin, San Antonio, and Dallas. Houston’s population alone is over 5,000,000 and is expected to grow to over 8,000,000 by 2020. With the economic down-slide of the agricultural industry, many landowners are now forced to sell farm and ranch lands that have been in the family for generations.

It has been said that “with all change comes opportunity”. The demand for quality recreational hunting land has seen a tremendous increase over the last 10 years and with an exploding human population that demand will only continue to increase. As more and more large ranches are divided up and sold, the opportunities for investing in recreational hunting property in Texas has never been better. Unimproved farm and ranch land in Texas is extremely affordable when compared to land in other states. Wildlife habitat enhancements and other improvements can cost-effectively be completed on these lands, substantially increasing the value of these properties to recreational hunters. The properties can then be sold outright for a profit to outdoor enthusiasts or utilized as income producing investments by developing them into hunting clubs, hunting leases, or full service guided hunting ventures.

bobwhite-quail closeupThere are a multitude of state, federal, and private grant programs available in Texas which provide funding for restoration, enhancement, and management of wildlife habitat that can greatly increase the value of recreational hunting property. That’s right, you can utilize other people’s money to increase the value of your hunting property investment in Texas. How many other investments out there can offer that? Enlisting the services of a professional that is knowledgeable in farm, ranch, and recreational hunting land and wildlife habitat development and management, can help ensure that you invest in the right property and take full advantage of available funding opportunities. When properly planned out and implemented, investing in recreational hunting property in Texas can be extremely cost-effective, and profitable. As the old saying goes “buy land – they’re not making any more of it”.

Ed Ritter
Owner / Certified Wildlife Biologist / Licensed Real Estate Broker
Wildlife Management Enterprises, L.L.C.

Managing Hunting Properties With Fire – A Proven Cost-Effective and Productive Management Strategy

Prairei Fire 1Fire has been a naturally occurring process in nature for millions of years. Both naturally occurring and man induced fires have helped to shape and define our landscape and the wildlife that depend on it. Native Americans intentionally set fires to stimulate plant growth in grasslands and forests for wildlife and sustenance. Early European settlers utilized fire to keep pastures open and healthy. Without these fires the world we know today would look drastically different.

Prescribed burning is the controlled application of fire to a confined area of land under closely monitored environmental conditions for wildlife habitat management purposes. Wildfires, on the other hand, are by definition uncontrolled and often occur under the most hazardous conditions and can cause damage to both property and the environment. Not only does prescribed burning provide a multitude of wildlife habitat benefits, it also reduces or removes excess fuel loads and helps prevent wildfire.

Fire has unique habitat enhancement qualities that can not be replicated with other man induced methods such as mowing, disking, or herbicide. Because of these qualities, prescribed burning is one of the most cost efficient and effective wildlife habitat management tools we have at our disposal on recreational hunting properties. Under the right circumstances, prescribed burning can be equally beneficial on all types of habitat including open prairie grasslands, wetlands, brush-lands and forest-lands. Some of the wildlife habitat benefits of prescribed burning include:

  • Prairie Fire 2Promotes diversity, quality, and quantity of valuable wildlife food plants.
  • Opens up the vegetative over-story to allow sunlight to penetrate to the soil surface for germination and production of wildlife food plants.
  • Burned vegetation provides a natural fertilizer, returning nitrogen to the soil.
  • Increases moisture filtration into the soil.
  • Removes overgrown ground litter to allow wildlife access through an area.
  • Helps to control non-native invasive plant species.

Prairie Fire 3The focus of any prescribed burn should always be on safety and achieving preplanned wildlife habitat management goals. There are many factors that must be addressed to insure a safe and effective burn including: weather, wind, relative humidity, fuel load, and fire breaks. For this reason it is a good idea to always enlist the services of a professional that is experienced in wildlife habitat management and prescribed burning. A well planned prescribed burn should establish the conditions and manner under which fire will be applied on a carefully defined area to accomplish very specific management objectives.

In these times of high fuel costs, prescribed burning is hands down the most effective and cost efficient wildlife habitat management tool for recreational hunting properties. This proven wildlife habitat management technique can produce superior results at a fraction of the cost of mechanical treatments such as mowing, disking, or herbicide applications. A properly planned prescribed burn with specific wildlife habitat management objectives can significantly reduce your operation and maintenance costs while at the same time improve the quality and value of your hunting property.

Ed Ritter
Owner / Certified Wildlife Biologist / Licensed Real Estate Broker
Wildlife Management Enterprises, L.L.C.

Property Tax Benefits – Wildlife Management Valuations on Texas Farm, Ranch, and Hunting Properties

In Texas most property is typically taxed based on its fair market value. However, one exception to that rule is land that is in some type of agricultural production. Most people commonly refer to this as an agricultural “exemption”. In actuality the property is not “exempt” from property tax and an agricultural valuation is the more appropriate terminology. Where agricultural production is the primary use of a property, the property is appraised on a productivity value as opposed to a fair market value. The resulting difference in valuation is a property appraisal averaging 75 to 90 percent lower than the fair market value.

According to the Texas Comptroller over 144 million acres of land in Texas is currently appraised as agricultural land. Prior to 1995, lands devoted primarily to wildlife management were excluded from this favorable property tax benefit. This resulted in forcing many landowners whose primary occupation and source of income was not agriculture to implement agricultural practices that were not always best for the natural resources in order to maintain their agricultural valuation. One common problem involved the overstocking of cattle on lands that could not support them. This was a result of minimum stocking rates required to maintain a viable livestock operation mandated by the appraisal districts in order to maintain a properties agricultural designation.

In 1995 the people of Texas voted and overwhelmingly approved Proposition 11. This amendment as authorized by Section 1-d-1 of the Texas Constitution expanded the agricultural valuation to include wildlife management. This change in the property appraisal code allows landowners to re-designate their properties primary use from agricultural production to wildlife management use, while maintaining the property tax benefits of an agricultural appraisal. This change was due in large part to growing trends in landownership towards recreational hunting lands and wildlife management combined with depressed agricultural commodity prices.

However, in order to keep this legislation revenue neutral, only lands that otherwise qualify for agricultural appraisal are eligible for the designation of wildlife management as the primary land use. Qualified agricultural land is defined in Section 23.51(1) of the tax code as: Land that is currently and principally devoted to agricultural use to the degree of intensity typical for the area and has been used for agriculture or timber for at least five of the preceding seven years.

The requirements for recreational hunting properties to qualify for the wildlife management valuation require: (1) that wildlife management be the primary use of the land and that all secondary uses be compatible with the primary use; (2) the degree of intensity of management be typical of the area; (3) management practices be sufficient to encourage long-term maintenance of indigenous breeding, migrating, or wintering populations; and (4) wildlife be propagated for human use – including recreation or the property owner’s passive enjoyment in owning the land and managing it for wildlife.

To further qualify for the wildlife management valuation, lands must be annually managed in a least three of the following seven ways: (1) habitat management; (2) erosion control; (3) predator control; (4) providing supplemental supplies of water; (5) providing supplemental supplies of food; (6) providing shelters; and (7) making census counts to determine populations.

These requirements are obviously broad, and subject to a certain degree of interpretation. Specific standards for meeting these qualifications are set at the local level by the Chief Tax Appraiser of the county appraisal districts. A wildlife management plan specific to the property where the wildlife management valuation designation pertains must be submitted to the appraisal district where the land is located. The management plan must include at a minimum the following information: (1) ownership information, property description, and current land use; (2) the landowners goals and objectives for the land; (3) the specific indigenous wildlife species targeted for management; and (4) the specific management practices and activities to be implemented in support of the specific indigenous wildlife species targeted for management.

Enlisting the services of a professional in wildlife habitat management can help you develop and implement a wildlife management plan tailored to your goals and objectives while at the same time fulfilling the wildlife management valuation requirements. If the property taxes on your current or future recreational hunting property are assessed utilizing the agricultural valuation, consider re-designating its primary use to wildlife management. You can receive the exact same property tax benefits without having to implement agricultural practices that may not be conducive to your long-term goals and objectives or the natural resources on your property.

Ed Ritter
Owner / Certified Wildlife Biologist / Licensed Real Estate Broker
Wildlife Management Enterprises, L.L.C.

COPS Walk 2012 – TX Game Warden Justin Hurst

COPS Walk 2012 – TXGW Justin Hurst

Amanda Hurst fundraising for CONCERNS OF POLICE SURVIVORS

Please click on the top link above to donate in memory of Justin.

Texas Game Warden Justin Hurst was murdered by a gunman on March 17, 2007- his 34th birthday. Our son, Kyle, is now 5 years old, and will be eligible to attend COPS Kids Camp in 2 years! After attending the Spouses Retreat this past September, I fully understand the power of these programs. COPS provides these at NO COST to us! And since this is the 5th anniversary of Justin’s death, I want to help raise funds for these retreats so they are available for Kyle and others who are unfortunate enough to join our group. Please help me honor Justin’s memory and sacrifice, and help provide a place where Kyle can go and be like other children who have grown up without a father. Thank you for your ongoing support and prayers!!