Driving through the dusty plains of Texas, the horizon is endless with views of rolling farmlands, miles of cornstalks, and cattle farms. While there is vast farmland as far as the eye can see, you will be surprised to learn that much of it is owned by only a few families. Many traditionally have kept their land through generations of heirs, but times are changing.
More farmland is now hitting the market as a large percentage of America’s farmland is owned by people aged 75 or older, and experts say millions of acres will change hands, with investors being the main recipients. Due to increasing numbers of extended families now separated in remote locations, families are not gathering at these iconic ranches like they used to.
Bill McDavid from Hall and Hall , one of the leading brokers for farmland and ranches, says, “When I first entered the business several decades ago, most major ranches for sale were owned by folks who had inherited the property through a generational chain often stretching back to homestead days… they were mostly land rich – cash poor. Their kids had grown up working on the ranch but went off and built a life somewhere else with little interest in returning to the ranch. Or too many siblings created a challenge in fairly bequeathing the ranch. In either case, the owners reached an age where the workload became too much, and it was time to pass the torch.”
High net-worth buyers became attracted to the ranch lifestyle, which fueled strong value appreciation. McDavid adds, “We have reached a point where most of the major ranches for sale are owned by those ultra-high net worth people who have aged out of owning the ranch and are looking to simplify their estates. The multi-generational ranch is becoming a thing of the past.”
Hall and Hall recently closed on the sale of Rana Creek Ranch in the Carmel Valley, California. At about 14,000 acres, it was the largest ranch in the valley, which sold for $35 million. The seller was Mike Markkula (81), the angel investor who funded the formation of Apple Computer. He bought the ranch in the ‘80s and finally reached an age where he used it less, so it was time to move on. The Wildlands Conservancy acquired the property, providing public access to the ranch.
James King of King Land & Water , the leading conservation and ranch broker in Texas, is handling the listing for the highest-priced property, Brewster Ranch, and he agrees with the increase of aging cowboys selling off their land. “Many older wealthy large ranch owners in Texas are marketing their properties these days as they have life investment cycles and at some point, when owners age, they move on to other family priorities.”
According to industry stalwart The Land Report , America’s 10 largest private landowners are:
- Emmerson Family (Red Emmerson, 94, is founder of Sierra Pacific Industries, the largest private lumber production firm in the U.S.)
- John Malone , (John Malone, 82, is committed to conserving land for the communities that use it)
- Ted Turner (Ted Turner, 84, runs his ranches as a working business supported by hunting, fishing, and tourism)
- Reed Family (Simpson Logging Company)
- Stan Kroenke (Kroenke, 76, owns numerous sports teams, including the Los Angeles Rams. His Waggoner Ranch is the largest in Texas. He is married to Walmart heiress Ann Walton)
- Irving Family (The largest landholder in Maine, they have planted more than one billion trees in the U.S. and Canada)
- Peter Buck (Buck, who died in 2021 at the age of 90, was the founder of the Subway sandwich chain and owned mostly timberland in Maine)
- Brad Kelley (Kelley, 67, is the founder of Commonwealth Brands Tobacco).
- Singleton Family (Owners of over million acres in New Mexico and California with one of the largest cattle operations in the world)
- King Ranch Heirs (Ranches in Texas and California for hunting, farming, and oil)
Other notable landowners include Amazon’s Jeff Bezos , with 420,000 acres for his space operation in West Texas, and McDonald’s French fry producer heirs the J.R. Simplot Family , with 443,000 acres in Idaho. Elon Musk is planning on building a utopian city in Texas, on thousands of acres of farmland he recently acquired outside of Austin.
According to Eric O’Keefe at The Land Report , last year, Yellowstone creator Taylor Sheridan took over the Four Sixes Ranch in Texas, one of the top five Angus cattle ranches in the country with 142,372 acres. He paid a whopping $192,202,200 for the historic site. You can watch how dedicated the late owner, Anne Marion, was in the inspiring video above.
The Land Report and many of the private ranch brokers have revealed the top listings of American ranches/farmland currently on the market including;
Brewster Ranches : $299 million-430,305 acre s (Texas)
Owned by billionaire cigarette icon Brad Kelley , the ranches are located north of Big Bend National Park and include acres of mountains, springs, creeks, low desert and access to the Rio Grande. It is filled with wildlife, including the protected bighorn sheep.
Almost half the size of Rhode Island, the ranch includes multiple buildings and houses, including a five-bedroom, four-bath Spanish Hacienda built around a central courtyard. There is also an airstrip and hangar, submersible water wells, solar wells and windmills that supply water for livestock and wildlife.
The Brewster Ranch is the largest ranch to be listed since the 520,000-acre W.T. Waggoner Ranch sold in 2016 for an estimated $725 million.
Dove Mountain Ranch $225+ million-324,345 acres (Texas)
Dove Mountain Ranch is a working cattle and hunting ranch located in Big Bend Country of West Texas. This massive ownership is an assemblage of over 20 historic ranches that have been combined into the largest fee owned ranch complex for sale in Texas as well as the United States.
Dove Mountain, and Cupola Mountain contain a huntable population of Desert Big Horn Sheep. Quayule Creek runs north and south and become a huge gorge or canyon on the ranch. This creek runs into Maravillas Canyon just off the ranch on Black Gap Wildlife Management Area which is a solid breeding ground for additional dispersing Big Horn Sheep.
Turkey Track Ranch : $200 million-80,000 acres (Texas)
From the legacy of the Coble/Whittenburg empire, this ranch, with 80,000 fenced acres and 26 miles of Canadian River frontage, is known for its natural resources and is the site of the Battles of Adobe Walls of 1864 and 1874. Jay O’Brien and Dale Smith are the respected cattlemen who own and operate the Adobe Walls Cattle Co. They have run their cattle on the Turkey Track for several years, managing and caring for the ranch and stewarding this side of the operation.
Rancho Aqua Grande : $150 million-17,000 acres (Texas)
Rancho Agua Grande is a stunning live-water ranch in southwest Texas, boasting an incredible diversity of terrain across its 17,132 acres. This ranch is divided by seven miles of the year-round Live Oak Creek. Live Oak Creek is fed by more than 30 springs and supports abundant wildlife. It features local game and non-native wildlife species, including kangaroos, camels, zebras, gemsbok, and water buffalo. Along with its commercial hunting venue, the ranch features eight antique cabins plus an expansive 6,000-square-foot lodge for private events.
Bently Ranch $100 million-12,369 acres (Nevada)
Located 25 minutes from Lake Tahoe, the owners started accumulating land in Nevada in 1997 and instituted a cattle program in 2012. Over the last several years, they have focused on sustainable farming, aiming to grow various crops used in the distilling industry. The grains and botanicals grown on the ranch produce fine spirits. Water on the property includes 3,746-acre-ft Mud Lake and 1,784-acre-ft East Valley Reservoir. Currently being grown on the property are grains of wheat, rye, barley, hops, & oats, and premium alfalfa. Improvements include ten homes, four bunkhouses, seven shops, five horse barns, 12 hay barns, 12 storage barns, a feedlot, and a compost facility.
Dawson Elk Ranch : $96 million-50k acres (New Mexico)
Half the size of the city of Santa Fe, adjoining Ted Turner’s Vermejo Park Ranch, there are over 10,000 elk that roam along the remnants of historic mining operations. High-elevation buttes, mesas, and ridges form a complex of winding canyons over most of the ranch. The Vermejo River runs the 11-mile North-South length of the property. There is an occupied manager’s house and a separate complex of buildings, including a vacant home that houses the occasional hunter or visitor and several operating ranching support buildings.
Bull Springs Skyline Forest : $95 million-32,995 acres (Oregon)
Located minutes west of Bend, Oregon, Bull Springs is an active tree farm and recreational property that borders the Deschutes National Forest. The property has the opportunity for sustainable timber management and recreation with residential and mixed-use development.
The property includes three major creeks: Three Creek, Bull Creek, and Bull Springs Creek. The deep live water canyons are the habitat for mule deer and various bird species, and the Cascade Mountain foothills are the habitat for elk, bears, mountain lions, and bobcats. Hunting remains popular year-round, and abundant habitat for mule deer provides the opportunity for trophy class bucks.
Y6 R anch , $80.7+ million-113,650 acres (Texas)
A combination of seven ranches established in 1894 was owned by legendary Evans Means and is where Pancho Villa stayed in the early 1900’s. The Butterfield Trail crossed over the northern part of the ranch for miles, with the Y-6 Hills being a landmark for early travelers between San Antonio and El Paso.
This ranch has all-around hunting, combining the mountain habitats with the grassland and desert habitats. The ranch is prolific with Mule Deer and herds of pronghorn, aoudad, mountain lion, and elk.
Mt. Solitude Ranch : $79.9 million-3,630 acres (Texas)
The 100-year Texas legacy ranch, first settled in the 1800s, has been held by the Thomson Family for over five generations and is located nine miles northwest of San Antonio and filled with lakes, creeks and a lakeside house.