Sagebrush Thoughts

While I attended a class on weeds over the last several weeks, the instructor touched on a question I often hear from buyers or new owners of acreage: Can I plow up the sagebrush and replace it with grass? The simple answer may seem to be to cultivate the ground, but if you do that to permanent pasture or rangeland, consider a few thoughts. To cultivate the ground requires specific equipment such as a plow, large disk, and a tractor big enough to handle them. A large area of bare soil is exposed to erosion and invasion by weeds and if adverse environmental conditions exist (drought) the whole process may need to be repeated. Additionally, the seed itself can be expensive so it is certainly an investment in both time and money. You can check with the Routt County Extension office and the NRCS (Soil Conservation) for more information.


Range Beef Cow Symposium – Cheyenne, WY

I recently attended a three day Range Beef Cow Symposium in Cheyenne, Wyoming. It was loaded with up-to-the minute research findings and data pertinent to the cattle industry. While my husband soaked in all of the practical applications to our high mountain cattle herd, I found the legislative and advocacy presentations applicable to both my ranching profession and my ranch brokerage profession. Being a new member of the National RLI legislative committee, I’ll share some of my key takeaways that may help farm and ranch brokers when they sit across the table from their clients.

Legislative takeaways:

*The estate planning landscape has changed-in a good way-at least for the next 8 years. The estate tax exemption has doubled to roughly $11M for an individual and $22M for a couple. This new exemption certainly affects succession planning and how we as ranch brokers help farmers and ranchers achieve their acquisition, disposition and transition goals.

*1031-exchange provisions survived the proposed overall chopping block but didn’t come away unchanged. Most notable to us is that real estate (which generally appreciates) and buildings are still allowed while breeding livestock and some equipment (which generally don’t appreciate) are no longer allowed.

*The new tax law increases the deduction for breeding stock, race horses, and equipment to 100% for property placed in service after September 2017. The ability to expense breeding cattle could be significant for buyers who purchase a ranch that is being sold with livestock.

Advocacy takeaways:

*WOTUS (Waters of the US) is a topic I’ve followed for years; its implementation would have had far reaching effects and could have hugely affected me and my ranching neighbors. On January 22, the US Supreme Court unanimously decided to give federal district courts jurisdiction over WOTUS. This important decision shifts the focus away from federal regulation and is a tremendous victory for water users who have challenged the rule in court. Also, on January 31 the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers officially delayed application of the 2015 WOTUS ruling for two years. This will give the agencies time to provide long-term regulatory certainty about which waters are subject to federal regulation or to possibly repeal it altogether.

*98% of consumers have no connection with production agriculture. They don’t know what we do on a daily basis and many consumers are exposed to one-sided information. Although many ranch brokers don’t have to get up at 2 a.m. for the middle-of-the-night calving check, they are directly involved in agriculture because they’re the ones helping farmers and ranchers trade in and out of the land. Anytime the benefits of agriculture can be shared by those involved in the industry, we tip the scales back toward the realities of feeding large populations with limited resources and maintaining the scenic, open landscapes that characterize rural America.

The agriculture industry like the real estate industry is constantly changing. New rules affect both industries and we can be better brokers when we are aware of the changes affecting the lives and businesses of many of our clients.

Christy Belton owns Ranch & Resort Realty in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. She is also a rancher and with her husband operates a commercial cattle and hay business in the Elk River Valley and on the adjoining Routt National Forest.


Conservation Easements

A conservation easement can be a useful tool to accomplish a variety of landowner objectives. One of the primary reasons owners place an easement on their property is to receive a direct cash payment, often in combination with state tax credits and a federal tax deduction. The benefit to the owner is they retain ownership and use of their entire parcel and “sell” some or all of their ability to develop the land. The public benefits because the limited development translates into scenic vistas and reduced interruption to open landscapes.

Properties encumbered by conservation easements sometimes experience a longer sales effort and attract a smaller pool of buyers. Recent sales of properties encumbered by conservation easements suggest this trend to be slowing as conserved properties are becoming more commonplace. The encumbrance on the property results in a diminution of value which can also benefit the landowner by lowering the value of the estate.

There are several organizations that are qualified to hold conservation easements and each trust is as unique and distinct as each conservation easement. Time and money spent on the front end discussing how to best fit a conservation easement to your land, your income and your future plans will be well spent.


Ranching – A Way of Life

It’s difficult to describe all of the best things about owning a ranch-maybe it’s the legacy you leave, maybe it’s the time you spend with family working on the land, perhaps it’s a great tax write off or maybe it’s simply a matter of pride of ownership. For me, it’s the little things. It’s getting up in the morning as the sun rises over the mountains and heading outside—protected by several warm layers—to feed my cows. I love the sounds of the sleigh bells tapping against the work horses and the runners on the feed sled cutting through the snow. As winter gives way to spring, the baby calves running and bucking through the field-tails raised up like a flag-remind me of the optimism of new life. A new hay crop grows at a pace I can almost see; the long days of summer and the fertile river-valley soils combine forces to raise acres and acres of brilliant green native timothy and brome grass. It’s the time spent in the tractor breathing in the smell of the fresh cut hay and watching the hawks on a hay bale intently waiting for a confused, doomed rodent to appear. Some of the little things have turned out to be not-so-little. Raising a child on a ranch, taking in young people and helping them to learn about hard work and respect for animals, and sharing our experiences with others certainly rank among the best things about having a ranch. For great shots and videos of some of the best things about owning a Colorado ranch, follow me on Instagram at @christybelton.