Small Pt3: Mixed Ownership Landscapes

The challenges of managing landscapes with small acreage mixed ownership are immense. Lack of coordination between landowners, wide array of contexts and goals, local geopolitical constraints, etc. all lend to a ownership pattern that is not conducive to landscape level management coordination. In order to face the ecological, economic, and social challenges of the future a solution to this issue must be found. Ecological imbalance at the landscape scale, within a small acreage setting, can first be addressed with coordinated grazing efforts.

Rest is a vital portion of any grazing program, especially on the high plains of the intermountain west. It is difficult for a small landowner to achieve a proper amount of rest because they simply run out of space. The standard stocking ratio in most of the high plains is one cow per 40 acres for the year. Given that an “average” small acre tract size is around 40 acres, one cow will not lend well to a sustainable livestock enterprise. More importantly, one cow per tract of land will negatively affect the landscape as a whole. However, it has been shown that with diligent grazing management, this stocking rate can be improved. Whatsmore, cooperation between neighbors increases the amount of acreage available to a herd and can extend the amount of rest between grazing on any given acre.

For small acreage landowners that do not have an agricultural context, the primary incentive to graze livestock is the application of agricultural taxes, compared to general land tax. In most states, agricultural tax status can be achieved by simply leasing the parcel to a neighboring livestock owner and documenting through some sort of leasing agreement or photographic evidence, depending on the state. Most of these landowners purchased their parcel for the aesthetic value and open space, including the iconic western ambiance of the parcel. These types of owners will gladly welcome periodic grazing to fulfill this aesthetic goal. Coupled with an annual payment for use of the grass, agreements can be developed that are attractive to many small acreage landowners

To extend this collaborative model further, cooperative production agreements can be arranged to mutually benefit the variety of contexts and goals found in small acreage areas. More importantly, the ecological health of the landscape can be managed while providing economic return for landowners and committed livestock producers.

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