The University of Arizona

Economics and demographics constrain investment in Utah private grazing lands.

R. Peterson, D.L. Coppock

Abstract


In Utah during the early 1990s it was theorized that substantive change was under way in the management of private grazing land. Change was thought to be spearheaded by grazing permittees who feared losing access to public forage and thus wanted to increase carrying capacity of private grazing land as a hedging tactic. We synthesized results from socioeconomic surveys conducted among a target population of 5,067 grazing livestock producers during 1993, 1996, and 1997. This population was evenly divided between permittees and operators wholly dependent on private grazing (e.g., private operators). Our primary objectives were to: (1) test the hypothesis that a sustained upswing in management change was occurring; (2) identify factors associated with operations that "actively" invested in their properties versus those that were "passive"; and (3) identify producer priorities for applied research. Mail and phone surveys were used. Data analysis included descriptive statistics and logistic regression. Compared to private operators, permittees controlled far more private land and livestock and were more profit-oriented and dependent on live-stock-derived income. Managers of both groups were aged--37% of the population was >65 years old. Eighty percent of 393 managers surveyed in 1996-7 classified their operations as passive and ranked factors related to aging and economics as main reasons for passivity. Logistic regression and ranking exercises revealed that the active minority was most associated with higher gross annual incomes, more stewardship values, greater willingness to incur debt, and being a permittee. Permittees were more inclined to be active managers because of a greater entrepreneurial orientation compared to private operators, who tended to be hobby ranchers. Our work supported an alternative hypothesis that passivity in land management has been maintained in Utah during the 1990s, largely because incentives were lacking for most of the population to do otherwise. A wealthier minority, however, could still make large investments in their operations because of a superior risk tolerance. We concluded that demographic and economic factors exert the most control over producer behavior today, not access to information or new technology. One consequence is that demand for information and technology can be episodic due to coincident economic, demographic, and policy factors, which also implies that applied research, extension, and policy formulation need to be more opportunistic in response to change. Producers felt that forage improvements, policy, and economics were top research priorities. A looming crest of retirements among traditional landowners bodes for substantive and rapid change in the use of Utah private grazing land. Nearly one-third of those planning retirement hope to sell property to land developers.

DOI:10.2458/azu_jrm_v54i2_peterson


Keywords


part-time farming;farm indebtedness;farm surveys;grazing tenancy;public domain;irrigated pastures;risk;investment;land ownership;ranching;farmers' attitudes;age;range management;rangelands;Utah

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