Philip Gipson is a Kleberg Professor with Texas Tech’s Department of Natural Resources Management. Prior to coming to Texas Tech, Gipson served as both a research unit leader and associate professor with Kansas State University’s Division of Biology, and earlier a senior wildlife biologist with the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. A native of Arkansas, he earned a bachelor’s degree from University of Central Arkansas and a master’s degree from University of Arkansas. He received his doctorate degree in zoology with an emphasis on predator ecology from University of Arkansas-Fayetteville.
OP-ED ON FILE
- A Vital Resource For the Future: Baccalaureate degrees in Texas Tech University’s College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources are key to providing the science-based expertise necessary to ensure economic viability. By Michael Galyean
- The Greatest Challenge Facing Agriculture: ‘If there is no guarantee the farmers can keep their land, then no farmer will be concerned with any long-term benefits from the land.’ By Kevin Redwine
- Career Opportunities in Agriculture: ‘We need professionals that can stand up for the agriculture industry to protect the quality of life for our growing society.’ By Lori Dudley
- Boosting Student Retention: CASNR’s Student-Centered Programs, Faculty-Based Advising Key Student Success By Rachel Bobbitt
- Dollars and Sense: The Long-Term Economic Value of Higher Education and Research By Eduardo Segarra and Sukant Misra
- A Historical Perspective: America’s Founding Fathers Established the Importance of Agricultural Education by Steve Fraze
- The Ties That Bind: Forging New Links from the Farm to Natural Resource Management by Philip Gipson
- Agricultural Research: Carrying the Water for U.S. Competitiveness by Darren Hudson
- A Global Priority: Education and Research in Agricultural Sciences & Natural Resources by Sukant Misra
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The Ties That Bind
Forging New Links from the Farm to Natural Resource Management
By Philip Gipson
In today’s difficult economic times, we need to remember the importance of agriculture and natural resources to our economy and culture. First, let’s put a number on it. There are some 250,000 farms and ranches in Texas. Private lands devoted to farming, ranching and forestry include more than 142 million acres. That adds up to 88 percent of the land in Texas. Moreover, we lead the nation in cattle, sheep and goat production; not to mention our national dominance in cotton and grain crops, along with huge quantities of watermelons, grapefruits and cantaloupes.
For the past six decades our food and fiber production has steadily increased – thanks to new technologies, mechanization, yield-enhancing chemicals and government policies favoring agricultural competitiveness. Those incremental changes have decreased the number of farmers while increasing food and fiber quantities across the United States and the world.
But these advances have had some unintended consequences, including a decline in number of family farms, deterioration of living conditions for farm laborers, and a sad demise of some rural communities. Though agricultural producers are generally good stewards of natural resources, some intensive production practices have also negatively impacted our natural resources due to topsoil loss and contamination of surface and ground waters.
Concurrently, substantial changes in Texas land ownership have occurred in the last 15 years, in part driven by population growth, greater demand for hunting and other outdoor recreation, and increased interest among people with extra money to invest in land. There’s also been a shift to wildlife production and harvest as a management goal among traditional agricultural producers.
This trend was encouraged by 1996 state legislation establishing wildlife management as an approved land use for tax appraisal purposes. Economic forecasts suggest that these trends are likely to rise as Texas’ population jumps by 10 million to 33 million in 2030. Changes are also occurring in the size and management of farms and ranches.
Since 1997, the number of operations less than 100 acres have risen more than 22 percent, and the total amount of land occupied by these small operations has increased. On the other hand, land operations of 500 acres or more have generally declined, but the numbers of large operations (2,000 acres or more) have increased as investors purchase and consolidate smaller properties.
It’s clear from the increase in small and very large operations that more people want to own rural land and experience the outdoors. Many of them are urbanites with little experience in farming, ranching and wildlife management. But, they’re astute money managers and believe Texas land is a sound investment. From 1997 to 2007, there was a boost of 140 percent in the average appraised value of Texas farms and ranches. Even in the tough economic straits of 2009, the drop off was only 7 percent.
I believe these people want an opportunity to enhance wildlife, increase the beauty of their land, and enjoy rural living while earning a reasonable return on their investment. To help meet that goal, there’s a growing interest among traditional livestock ranchers and crop producers to promote practices which contribute to restoration and maintenance of native grasslands and improve cover for wildlife.
Here at Texas Tech’s Department of Natural Resources Management, we’re developing new education opportunities for students to become ranch managers for integrating wildlife management and hunting into traditional livestock and forage production and consultants to help land owners develop new income streams from leasing land for hunting, as well as from guiding and lodging services to clients that want to hunt on their lands.
We’re encouraging a holistic perspective to build stronger links between agricultural production and natural resources management on Texas farms and ranches. Sound management of wildlife and other natural resources on farm and ranch lands can increase income, recreation opportunities, and the knowledge that the economic value of the investment in the land is increasing.