January 12, 2016
Can a working rancher still buy a working ranch in Wyoming and make ends meet with grass and cattle?
That’s certainly a thing of the past in the Cowboy State’s more scenic areas, where old-school ranch owners continue to be replaced by wealthy out-of-staters with no roots in agriculture.
But in many areas of the state, folks who earn their living off the land are still able to purchase ranches that will make the land pay, and that will increase cash flow and pave the way for the next generation, says long-time land broker John Pearson.
$429 PER ACRE: The 2,216-acre Lazy Ranch in central Wyoming sold for $950,000.
“Yes, we’re still seeing 100% ranchers buying places strictly for agriculture production. That’s how they make their living,” says Pearson, owner of Pearson Real Estate, a Buffalo, Wyo.-based company that gears much of its business toward working agricultural properties for working ranchers and farmers.
Pearson says that a number of factors have allowed some ranchers across the state to expand holdings the last couple of years: unprecedented cattle prices coupled with dropping grain prices, good moisture and low interest rates.
He adds that some ranchers fortunate enough to hold mineral rights in eastern Wyoming were also able to expand land holdings following the recent oil boom, though that is definitely tapering off with the drastic drop in energy prices.
“For a while, many landowners who had mineral rights were doing very well. I’m talking about 100% ag folks who came into the market and bought more ranch land,” he says.
Interestingly enough, the recent economic downturn played a role in some ranch expansions as it helped hold the lid on land prices.
Pearson says the following sale in addition to one on the next page are examples of working ranches selling to working ranchers.
Fourth-generation members of the P.J. McIntosh family, who homesteaded in the Sweetwater River Valley in 1885, sold the 2,216-acre Lazy Ranch west of Jeffrey City for $950,000—or $429 per acre—the listed price at the time of the sale.
This was 18% less than the original asking price of $1.16 million.
“A long-time neighboring ranch family bought the Lazy because it’s a very good add-on for their existing operation, especially since it’s contiguous to their land,” Pearson says. “I would call them 100% ranchers who bought the place for its potential agriculture production.”
The Lazy features 1,660 acres of dryland rangeland (a mix of sagebrush and shortgrass prairie), 420 acres of irrigated land used to raise grass hay and 134 acres of sub-irrigated bottom land (approximately two miles of the Sweetwater River pass through the ranch).
Helping to keep the price down was an old ranch house with little value; also, the meadows and irrigation water delivery system were in poor condition.
“It will take some work and money to bring the place up to full production,” Pearson says.
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