California rangeland threatened by budget cuts

Posted on October 29, 2012

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California could soon have less wide open spaces if the state cuts funding for the Williamson Act, a piece of legislature that lowers property tax for thousands of farm and rangeland owners in the state.

Landowners who agree to use their land for agriculture during an agreed time (say, 10 years) are eligible for the tax breaks.  The program’s funding has been restricted since budget constraints in 2009, but it currently provides tax relief for 15 million acres.

New research from the University of California, Davis found that, of the 700 ranchers with Williamson Act contracts surveyed, 36% said they would have to sell some or all of their land without the tax support.

For a small rancher, the federal tax relief from this act can make the difference between sinking and staying afloat in a tough economy.

“California ranching is a vulnerable, low-profit industry,” says Dale Manning, study co-author and UC Davis doctoral candidate. “Of those surveyed, 38 percent lost money, 19 percent roughly broke even, and 42 percent made a profit. Of the ranches that made a profit in 2009, 70 percent made less than $10,000.”

Of ranchers who said they would sell, 76% believed buyers were likely to develop the land for non-agricultural purposes.

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