Livestock WeeklySeptember 18, 2014Trend Of Land Fragmentation, Rural Loss Continues In TexasBy John BradshawLUBBOCK — Land fragmentation has been a growing problem for Texas, and by all appearances it isn’t going to slow any time soon. The state’s population continues to grow rapidly, and those residents have an insatiable appetite for land.Todd Snelgrove brought some facts and figures on fragmentation trends to a recent landowner forum presented by Texas Agricultural Land Trust. Snelgrove, who is with the Texas A&M Institute of Renewable Natural Resources, began by talking about the state’s continued population growth.In 1997 there were 19 million Texas residents. Today that number has climbed to 26 million.“That’s a 36 percent increase, or about 500,000 new Texans every year,” Snelgrove said.Of that increase, 63 percent moved to 10 counties, which are all around Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, Austin, and San Antonio.“There has been massive population growth over the last 15 years in those areas,” he said.Looking at the top 25 most-populated counties, in 1997 there were 13 million residents. Now there are 19 million.“We’re seeing the sprawl,” Snelgrove said.It thundered outside just as he said this, and Snelgrove remarked that it was a sign of impending doom.Those top 25 counties represent only 10 percent of the total acreage in Texas but hold three-fourths of the state’s population.In 1997 the highest-value land was concentrated in the close vicinity of the large cities, but since then the market value of land surrounding those cities for some distance has increased dramatically.“It is expanding out into traditional rural counties,” Snelgrove said.In the last 15 years one million acres of what is considered open space were lost to fragmentation. Much of that occurred during a nationwide economic boom.However, from 2007-2012 the trend slowed considerably due to the economic recession.“We’re still losing open space land, but not quite as quickly as we did in the previous decade,” he said.There has been a significant increase in the number of farms of fewer than 500 acres over the last 15 years surrounding Dallas and Houston.“That is a massive indication of ownership fragmentation,” Snelgrove said.Those small farms are coming from the fragmentation of tracts in the 500-2000 acre class.However, in areas where profitability from land ownership has been high over the last 15 years, where someone can make a living from their land, there has been some consolidation of smaller tracts into larger holdings.Areas around Lubbock have been consolidating, as are some areas in South Texas. It’s too early to tell, but Snelgrove said his gut is saying that as landowners continue to receive financial benefits from oil and gas production there will be an increase in consolidation in those areas.“I think in this next generation of land trends, looking from 2012 to 2017, we’ll see an increase in consolidation in those areas that have reaped the benefits, like the Eagle Ford Shale and the Permian Basin,” he said.The upturn in oil and gas will cause more fragmentation near the cities, though, as more companies and people move to Texas.“If you’re living near any of the major transportation corridors through the middle part of the state, those rural lands are going to be under extreme pressure.”Although there has been consolidation in a few select areas around the state, the majority has continued to be broken up. Areas where it is particularly evident are along the Gulf Coast and through the Edwards Plateau, Rolling Plains and into East Texas.Looking at the future, the increasing population coupled with the economic rise should trigger an acceleration of open space decline, Snelgrove predicted. It is projected that by 2040 the population of Texas will reach 36 million.