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Some small, midsize farms going awaySome small, midsize farms going awayhttps://www.recenter.tamu.edu/news/newstalk-texas/?Item=52252014-01-21T14:37:00Z2014-01-20T00:00:00Z

TEXAS - A growing number of Texans are leaving the land because of opportunities in urban areas, a spike in land prices and concerns about risky weather patterns fueled by a blockbuster drought that continues to plague much of the state. The agricultural workforce is also aging.

Small and midsize farms and ranches — those under 2,000 acres — have been declining at a rate of 250,000 acres a year, according to the Texas A&M Institute of Renewable Natural Resources. From 1997 to 2007, the institute estimates, Texas lost about 1.5 million acres of agricultural land and is expected to lose a million more by 2020.

And while Texas as a whole is growing rapidly, the 96 counties that lost population from 2010 to 2012 are mostly in heavily agricultural West Texas and the Panhandle, the Office of the State Demographer said.

“The scariest thing is what’s happening to the blacklands;  that’s the land that’s being built out,” Billy Howe, the state legislative director for the Texas Farm Bureau, said, referring to cropland that lines Interstate 35, around which the swelling metropolitan areas of Austin, Dallas and San Antonio are clustered.

A century ago, Williamson County, north of Austin, was a top cotton producer. “It’s nothing but houses now, for the most part,” Billy Howe, the state legislative director for the Texas Farm Bureau, said.

A decline in population did not always mean less farming, according to Darren Hudson, a professor of agricultural economics at Texas Tech University. Technological advances have allowed many farms and ranches in the Panhandle to expand, while maintaining production levels with fewer workers.

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