Our View: Home on the range


Editorial Board, Sept. 25, 2011, to January 2012

  • Scott Stanford, general manager
  • Brent Boyer, editor
  • Tom Ross, reporter

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As county assessors across Colorado prepare this month to re-value farms and ranches with houses and farm buildings for property tax purposes, it appears that House Bill 1146 is a positive step toward improving balance and fairness to the system.

There remains much to be learned and understood about how Colorado’s new law will impact the property tax valuations of agricultural land in Routt County. However, we see encouraging signs in the new law that it will redistribute the overall tax burden here in a more equitable way without harming the farmers and ranchers who do the work of raising food in the Yampa Valley.

The new law is intended to remove some of the favorable agricultural tax status from as much as 2 acres of land associated with rural homes whose occupants are not farmers and ranchers but who allow farming and ranching activities to take place on their land for the express purpose of lowering their tax bills.

One illustration could be the Red Creek subdivision near Clark, where the property tax rates vary from home to home. Some property owners in Red Creek lease the portion of their 35-acre lots not occupied by their homes to a rancher for grazing. One 35-acre lot there was purchased for $47,000 and is valued for taxes at $740. With agriculture status, the annual tax bill is $13.12.

Right next door is a 748-square-foot home on a 35-acre lot. The land, which does not have agriculture status, is valued at $333,000 for tax purposes, and the one-bedroom home is valued at $113,000. The annual tax bill has averaged about $1,850 throughout the past three years.

In the same subdivision, there is a 3,400-square-foot home that sold for $900,000 in 2005. The land, which has agriculture status, is valued at $1,120 for tax purposes, and the home is valued at $520,000. The property’s 2010 tax bill was $2,600.

Routt County Assessor Gary Peterson said he expects to take a fresh look at the valuation of 1,380 rural properties in 2012. The possibility exists that property taxes on those farms and ranches will go up in 2013. But that won’t always be the case.

The new law had its genesis in 2010 when the state Legislature established a nine-member panel to explore the issue and make recommendations. Its membership included county commissioners and county assessors as well as representatives of the agricultural community.

Specifically, the new law requires Peterson and county assessors across Colorado to look at the 2 acres of land beneath a structure on a farm or ranch and consider whether they should be re-valued at residential values, based upon whether the occupants of the home actively are engaged in farming or ranching, which would make that building integral to the agricultural operation carried out on the land.

The owner of the farm/ranch need not occupy the house, but the occupant could be an immediate family member or an employee who raises crops or livestock. But it could not be a cousin, for example, who happens to live in the house.

We are mindful that the ability to graze 40 or 50 cows and calves on the open space within a neighboring rural subdivision is one of the puzzle pieces that can keep a legitimate family rancher in Routt County prosperous. Similarly, contracts to custom crop hay from one of those subdivisions can help a farmer pay for a new tractor.

However, our understanding of the new state law suggests the incentive for rural homeowners associations to continue that cooperation with agriculture remains intact.

At the same time, we think House Bill 1146 stands to reduce the subsidy to some rural homeowners that urban property taxpayers were required to absorb under the old system. It’s only fair.


ybul 5 years, 4 months ago

It seems to me that sometimes an outside opinion facilitates good change. Many in AG have done things the way they have done them for years and are stuck in a paradigm that does not work, because that is the way it was always done.

Sometimes one needs to step away from the herd and blaze a new trail to be prosperous. Just maybe some of those in the ag sector are so entrenched in their ways they have no clue as to the possibilities that will make themselves more profitable.

That is especially true for commodity grain farmers - who for the most part do not operate in the valley - who require government assistance to make a living. yet with the government trying to support cheap food prices (I suppose to keep the masses fat and happy) why would they not operate that way.


kathy foos 5 years, 4 months ago

Yesterday I saw a program about how this country will be in a steep decline due to the dependency on oil which peaked at the world level this year.Many are thinking we need not worry at this point about that issue.These experts stated that this will be a sharp decline and not gradual over the next one hundred years.The reason being ,oil dependency is not really replacable with altnerative industrys in staving off this sharp drop,with the way we use it..The transporting of everything we need depends on the oil.There is nothing on our planet that will preserve this current way we live.They say it was good while it lasted,but its over.If we dont grow food locally.They(history channel"prophets of doom' show) said that local communitys need to grow food immediatly,to be prepared and have food replacement options on hand locally,That means even in your apartment window boxes ,if that is all that is available.Please consider this when making your decisions about agricultural lands in Routt county.


sledneck 5 years, 4 months ago

Sun, "They" have been talking "peak oil" for 20 years. "They" have also been talking about the worlds population getting too big to feed for 40 years. "They" have been wrong every time. New technology finds new ways to get more oil and more food.

The following point is something you really need to understand, not just about oil and food but about ALL markets: Ready? Here goes...

Price is truth. The experts, who collectively know more than you or I ever could hope to know about these commodities, trade every day. The price reflects all they know about the current AND future truth of that commodity. By setting the price at $95 / barrel these experts are saying they don't share your grave concern. Ditto for corn, sugar, etc.

Price is truth. Price says oil and corn and "whatever" is not going to be obsolete any time soon.


Tamera Manzanares 5 years, 4 months ago

I'm with you Ybul. The valley has changed and is changing, along with the rest of the nation. It's important to hold on to our heritage but not so tightly that we are blinded to tough issues staring us straight in the face. We are all transplants who have somehow contributed to the changes happening around us. We can stand on our high horses and proclaim wisdom for living here longer than others, or we can work together to find solutions.


sedgemo 5 years, 4 months ago

Buggacat, what solutions do you offer? If we grow less and less of our own food here at home, by definition it means more and more is shipped in using petroleum. Once ag lands are lost they almost never return to that use. We have massive amounts of land leased for oil and gas development, which also affects livestock and wild resources negatively. In the long view (where you came from doesn't affect this) we are trading food for oil. I suggest solutions need to take us back towards self-suffieciency, which will include some oil of course, but without ag we lose all. Anyone here want to get all their food shipped from China? Anyone? Didn't think so.

In my opinion we need to re-value sustainable local food production... maybe some of the lands being left fallow as "ranchettes" could be used for a non-profit community garden (look up CSA, many are quite successful). People made it through the Great Depression here with less than we have now (other than ag lands) so we need to ask HOW, and learn how to move forward by making better decisions than we are now.


ybul 5 years, 4 months ago

What food do we grow here Sedge? I have grown a quarter acre of potatoes, onions and limited other veggies. Laying hens, broilers (in the past and hopefully in the future), now milk, beef, and limited pork for waste milk consumption.

Otherwise we are stuck in the current paradigm of beef production and fortunately many have gone to seasonal production - where the animals are here in the non snow months as the deer and elk used to do.

Just working on the scale of production and the models so that it can be replicated in a way that people make an honest living - even in this valley.

Really the rule change is not that detrimental to food production.

So really it is not that hard to do, though the work is hard and most would prefer other "work".

Kathy - Considering that they are discovering oil below any fossil formations, the germans mfgd it in WWII, I think that it is for the most part fear mongering. I read a great paper on how to use renewable energy to make oil, which already has a distribution and consumption system here. So it makes the most sense for persuing as a renewable energy.


sedgemo 5 years, 4 months ago

ybul, folks grew enough here to live on in the past... all you described plus maybe dairy goats (nubians are small and good producers), sheep/lambs, strawberries... beets, other root crops which can handle the short season here. How about raising domestic elk/red deer? Bison? I don't know if anyone can make an entire living at it, but if we diversify we can create food sources here which support the people who live here, and cut our dependence on foreign foods and the fuels used to ship them here. Land that is removed from ag production/possibility is more or less gone forever. We need hay to feed livestock, livestock to produce meat, tillable land to grow veggies etc. My point is the ag land resource is diminishing, and with it our prospects for a degree of food self sufficiency.


ybul 5 years, 4 months ago

Heck, why stop feeding the people here. Utilize the restaurants in the mud season to make TV dinners (need legislation changes to accomplish that) to be shipped to Denver.

It is all a matter of scaling and layering the enterprises such that people can earn a decent living while at the same time have a life and take time off. No reason people in agriculture (the first component of health care reform - nutrient dense foods) should not be able to make a decent living at it. Though you need to throw out all ideas on how it needs to work in order for that to happen. Either that or just go big using lots of energy to produce few calories.

The short season simply requires planning to store the bounties of the crop. I grew phenomenal green beans without season extending row covers two years ago. Can/Freeze whatever these crops.

We need hay to feed livestock which is year round in the valley. Historically the elk migrated to browns park for the winter. The idea is to mimic nature as much as possible. Wintering cows in the valley is not energy sound - too many calories of energy used to generate too few calories.

The open spaces is one of the key features of the vision 2020-30 whatever. The thing to do is to get agriculture to a profitable methodology which can pay for the land. The county open space tax that simply buys easements should be pondered upon to be purchase half of the land which the other half is bought by an aspiring farmer/rancher (that way the tax revenue hopefully comes back to the county and a goal of local food is accomplished - the tenant - if the land is purchase only by the county could have an option to purchase by the tenant so tehy are not afraid to improve the land as it is not theirs. This retains the land in ag and does not work to consolidate land in the hands of a few - or worse yet is that one puts a conservation easement on the ground and then sells it for more than they paid a year earlier making a mint off the tax payers as has happened before.

Ag land is not deminishing it is changing and needs to be utilized for more than one operation for the land to return a profit. Though the infrastructure needs built to build a sustainable ag sector. Potato/beet/onion cellars so that the crops that are grown in the summer can be sold all year as they are storage crops. They should be owned by the county so that they do not get sold like the grain elevator in craig - which is now being used by the energy sector and essentially eliminates the economics of rail shipping of wheat from moffatt/routt counties.


spidermite 5 years, 4 months ago

ybul, What makes you think AG isn't profitable? Why do you think ranchers don't make a decent living? AG land is deminishing. You want more government control? Are government doesn't do a good job of managing anything. Your ideas sound like socialism. Don't worry about the cows in the winter. They are burning fewer calories standing in a field eating then the elk that need to migrate.


sedgemo 5 years, 4 months ago

Ybul and spider... the last four winters I have watched elk dying all over this county but mostly near Stbt. Most have learned NOT to migrate but to find cattle and horses, which mean hay for the elk to eat. I know at least three generations know the sound of tractors here, and come trotting when they hear them. Last winter I had an errand in Craig, and found elk eating hay in every place I could see which held cattle over.

You guys have good ideas and give me some hope things can improve here, but I don't think we can migrate cattle any more than we can migrate elk in winter. One extreme I visited in Alaska had an entire dairy herd confined all winter indoors in a state of the art football-field sized barn. They seemed happy enough and the place was clean (they turned them out in the long summer days) but alfalfa hay was $20 a bale there (in 1982 or so) since it all had to be imported. No doubt there were subsidies involved but I didn't ask. Milk cost over $3 a gallon even then, and most was shipped in. Egg and milk containers rarely had expiration dates printed on them so we never knew how long they had been in transit.


hillclinger 5 years, 4 months ago

why do people who didn't pay attention in school always rail against socialism? Are anti socialists proud of ignorance, afraid of education?

diminishing, not deminishing

"Our" government, not Are

...than the elk, not then the elk

Yes, I paid attention in school.


ybul 5 years, 4 months ago

What makes you think AG isn't profitable?

In general I was speaking of the energy consumed to produce and feed hay versus the energy that results from doing so. If the hay was not cut and was grazed, optimizing for solar energy conversion, wouldn't more energy be converted via the chlorophyl in the plants? Generally the studies show a two fold increase in crop yields when doing so. Then recent ranch science is showing "mob grazing" to increase

The point above was that sometimes we get so entrenched in our views, that we fail to comprehend that a new way of doing things might yield better results for us. Max Plank - nobel prize winning physicist stated "progress happens one tombstone at a time".

Why do you think ranchers don't make a decent living?

Many do and this year most should. Though statistics I have been told show that many ranchers are only profitable half of the time.

AG land is deminishing.

Yep in some areas, and some areas that were not in production are having irrigation water put on them. Though in reality layering enterprises on the land, one can yield far greater solar energy conversion than simply by sticking cows out on pasture for 6 months.

You want more government control?

Sorry if you read that in: however, renters typically are not very good stewards of the land either. So while some may take pride in the lands that they are managing others do not. Why invest a lot of money in something to make someone else money? Just simple human nature. If the county partners with aspiring farmers to invest in land both the county and the aspiring farmer will benefit from appreciation (structured properly).

Also on a root cellar or grain elevator, I stated that the county should own it, though I did not state who should manage it. Yes the government is typically a poor manager (the city appears to be trying hard to do a better job), however, the asset/building, in my opinion, is a critical component for a localized ag sector to return.

Don't worry about the cows in the winter. They are burning fewer calories standing in a field eating then the elk that need to migrate.

Simplistic viewpoint here as above, the energy required to feed these cows in the field is high. Does not matter how much they are burning and even sedentary they require a lot of energy to stay alive when it is -40. Shoot even wind rows buried under snow and then allowing the cattle to creep graze would be better than baling hay and then feeding it.

Sled - unfortunately, history class does not really teach history, but preaches history as some would like it to be known or believe it to have happened as such.


spidermite 5 years, 4 months ago

ybul, You have some interesting ideas. It seems to me with the creep grazing the cattle wouldn't do well over the winter. Poor quality feed. Alot of ranchers do not have enough of their own land to support thier herds. This is why they lease other pastures. If these leased pastures had to be maintained over the winter and cattle had to be transported to them it would be very expensive and time consuming for the ranchers. Outside work isn't pleasant in the winter. Then you've got the elk. Rancher's hay stacks are protected by elk fencing. They can control their feeding. These pastures wouldn't be protected. As far as the government being involved - bad idea.


ybul 5 years, 4 months ago

A two to four hour truck drive versus, how many hours putting up hay? Yep the elk are a problem, but for the most part they shouldn't be here in the deep snow

The feed quality does not deteriorate that much.

Government is not all bad it is simply a necessary evil. The government owning and leasing a structure to ensure the ability of locals to ship wheat by rail so that cargil or someone else does not control the destiny of the local wheat diStribution seems wise to me.

The history I was thinking of was that the US is a democracy not a constitutional republic, have no idea what point you are trying to make. Plato wrote that democracies will devolve into mob rule and why our forefathers tried to ensure that the will of the majority would not harm the minority.


spidermite 5 years, 4 months ago

The elk shouldn't be here? You need to explain that to them. The hay is harvested when the "feed quality" is at it's peak. These cows need excellent feed to ensure their health thru the extreme winter conditions. Keep in mind their also pregant during the this time. The less stress they have to endure the greater the number of calves that will be born in the spring. It's not just the time involved in transporting the livestock you've got to maintain the wind-rows and fences on the leased land. It would be an endless job.


ybul 5 years, 4 months ago

An endless job? I shipped my cows, like others do. The job is done until I bring them back, prior to calving. Though this year I simply sold most of them and will rebuild as I think prices are high and will come down.

Shipping costs are about $1200 (round trip less to browns park) for 40 head to land that costs about $40/month for grazing (I thought I had $22/head/month winter ground this year but it fell apart). The cost of putting up hay when one actually factors in all the costs is at or above $80/ton (this does not include land costs). So for 15 tons of hay the cows are shipped to a lower feed cost environment (migrated). Those 40 head (45+ if you run small framed cattle) will eat 80 tons of feed for those 4 months or $6400 for the production of hay ( not payment for land and if you put up hay on shares then your cost is higher) versus the extra freight when shipped out. Plus when run properly you will increase your forage production - conversion of solar energy into hydrocarbons - so you can run more livestock/acre and have a higher yield per acre or unit of labor.

There is little time involved. If you are shipping you probably do not need windrows. Windrows were just an example of cutting the energy costs of feeding your cows and putting up the feed.


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