Ranchers are waiting for the other shoe to drop
Carson Valley rancher Dallas Byington says he’s hopeful about the future of agriculture in the Carson Valley. The R-C interviewed Byington, a former president of the Nevada Cattlemen’s Association, Tuesday at his ranch on Genoa Lane. The question put to Byington was very broad: Is there a future for ranchers and farmers in the Carson Valley?
“A lot of people have sounded a death knell for (ranching and farming in) the Carson Valley and unfortunately, I think it could happen,” Byington said. “But we’re not going to be overwhelmed with it – it won’t come overnight. There have been a lot changes since I first came here as a high school kid working for Scossas in 1945. And because of its beauty and scenery, it’ll continue to grow.”
– Expensive to ranch. While growth is not necessarily bad, Byington said, it is one of the things that has made it hard for Valley farmers and ranchers, downturns in the livestock market are another reason.
“In today’s (real estate) market, there’s no chance for a younger person to come in and buy one of the ranches in this valley,” Byington said. “The land values are out of sight – they’ve put it out of reach for legitimate cattle ranchers – what we’re seeing is folks coming in with big bucks who can afford to pay $2,500 per acre to farm and who can also supplement their farming from outside income.
“That leaves young people who want to ranch looking for land to lease. Around here, there’s less and less of that. So, how long they can last – because it’s tough earning enough money to rent pasture from the cattle alone – is what the future will tell and it’s where what we do could make a difference.”
Byington, 66, has raised cattle and grown hay on the 1,000-acre ranch for 38 years. Before Byington and his wife, Barbara, who is county recorder, took over the ranch, it had been operated by Barbara’s parents, the Galeppis, since 1950. The Byingtons’ son, Russell, 35, a fire fighting instructor at the University of Nevada, Reno’s Fire Academy at Stead, and area rancher Domingo Uhart, 27, who leases pasture from the Byingtons for his registered Scottish black Aberdeen Angus breeding stock, have taken over a number of the ranch chores while Byington awaits surgery on his left knee, which was damaged in an old “horse wreck.”
n New technology. Byington said he still keeps records of his 200 Hereford mother cows and his bulls in a notebook he carries in his pocket, but will likely begin using a computer program his son wrote and uses at the ranch to track the livestock operation. The Byingtons have also begun using resources on the Internet in their business.
The Galeppi Land and Cattle Company also began several years ago to experiment with propagating White Park cattle, a British breed Byington said has fewer calving problems than most other breeds, is a good beef animal and is easy to get along with as opposed to the comparably-sized black Aberdeen Angus cattle, which can be temperamental. A number of scars on his head and body, Byington said, came compliments of various black Angus cows.
“The Whites have fewer calving problems and they’re gentle, I haven’t had an ornery one yet,” he said. “But, for some reason, the buyers prefer colored cattle and don’t buy the the Whites. If we don’t make money, we’ll have to get rid of them.”
n Market will improve. Byington said since livestock markets are cyclical in nature and the cattle market has been in a down cycle for the past several years, he expects the market to improve.
In response to market pressures, he said, ranchers have slowed production and, as a result, slaughterhouses and packing plants are slowing. And as meat on the market becomes more scarce, prices will go up creating a better climate for cattle producers.
n TDRs the answer to growth? “Transferring development rights looks like a good thing, although I think of it as selling a ‘scenic easement,'” he said. “The biggest drawback is you’re working with the government and no one trusts the government anymore. We (ranchers) are still waiting for the other shoe to drop. But, if it works – and I’m sort of an optimist, you can’t be in this business otherwise – it could be the salvation of agriculture in this valley.”
Related to the issues of growth and selling “scenic easements” to the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management, which would allow ranchers retain the ownership and use of their property for agriculture, but would prohibit future structural development on the land in perpetuity, Byington said, is land valuation.
“The other biggest thing that’s going to kill us is inheritance tax, land appraisals are at the highest and best use – not necessarily what the land’s current use is,” he said. “If it (TDRs) works out the way they talk, it would be a great thing for the Valley. Land would be appraised and valued at ag prices and young ranchers like Domingo could afford to buy it and farmers would still get their extra value out of it.
n ‘This is our bank.’ “What some people don’t understand is this is our bank, every time you’ve got a few dollars, you put it back into the operation, buying machinery or stock. Most grass around here is probably only worth about $400 per acre as a cattle ranch. Lately, 80 acres on a neighboring farm sold for $6,000 an acre. Will the government look at the value that’s been put on the land (when they appraise for TDRs) and pay according to comparable sales?”
Byington said if TDRs are successful, his son, like many others, may still choose not to ranch in the Carson Valley.
“Even if cattle prices come up and we set up our estate so we don’t kill him with inheritance taxes, it’ll still be tough if Russell wants to stay in it,” he said. “Doing other things, he’s used to having money. He also likes teaching at the fire academy. In the summertime, it’s every day. When they move the academy to Elko, he’ll have to make a decision
“If the BLM thing works out, we can keep the ranch together. David Hussman (the Gardnerville rancher who plans to be the first to sell the development rights to a large portion of his property along the Carson River) is our guinea pig, we’ll see how it works out with him.”
n More millionaires? Another possibility, Byington said, is if the Carson Valley gets enough absentee-owner millionaires who come in and buy large blocks of land they want to keep in agriculture, they could lease out their ground to farmers and ranchers.
“I’d like to see it stay like this forever,” Byington said. “It would be nice if Russell decides to stay, but what he wants is what counts. Other ranchers have kids who have good careers and no interest in ranching or farming. They like being able to take vacations and have Saturdays and Sundays off. If Russell decides to teach, that’s all right, too.
“The Valley’s still going to remain somewhat open for a long time, there’s still a lot of property that could be developed out of the flood plain on the east side. It’ll be a long, long time before agriculture is completely out of here.”
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