Agriculture in the Carson Valley. Photo by: Lena Johnstone.
Agriculture in the Carson Valley. Photo by: Lena Johnstone.

A partnership of Nevada counties; University of Nevada, Reno; and U.S. Department of Agriculture

Agriculture has been a major component of the Carson Valley fabric since early days. From the mid to late 1800s, Nevada’s Carson Valley, flourished as a farming community. The productive agricultural lands, wide floodplain and ample water were conducive to hay and grain farming. Douglas County’s population experienced a few decades of decline up through the 1950s, but grew by 182 percent from 1970 to 1980. Since that time, the county, particularly the Carson Valley, has lured new residents due in part to its attractive pastoral aesthetics.

When population increases it typically pushes agriculture aside, as land is more valuable for development than agriculture use. Recognizing this threat to agriculture and open space, the Nevada State Legislature passed NRS 361A.090 in 1975 stating “The legislature hereby declares that it is in the best interest of the state to maintain, preserve, conserve and otherwise continue in existence adequate agricultural and open-space lands and the vegetation thereon to assure continued public health and the use and enjoyment of natural resources and scenic beauty for the economic and social well-being of the state and its citizens.”

Byington family. Photo by: Carson Magazine.
Byington family. Photo by: Carson Magazine.

Despite this legislative intent, the threat of agriculture loss continues. In a 2016 Douglas County Master Plan Survey, conducted by Wells Barnett Associates LLC, many respondents were concerned about maintaining the qualities of rural character, which can be largely attributed to agriculture. Residents were asked to rank 18 topics. The 2017 draft Douglas County Agriculture Element reported that “natural resource conservation was ranked second, scenic quality was ranked third, and preservation of agricultural land was ranked sixth” by the 898 respondents. Clearly the importance of agriculture, the ecosystem benefits of agriculture and the open space that agriculture provides was on the mind of the survey respondents. One comment in particular captured the sentiment of many respondents in the eyes of the survey consultants, that being, “All of these topics are of great importance but I would say that the preservation of agricultural lands would be first and foremost.”

The vast majority of Douglas County lands in agriculture use are in the Carson Valley. Increased land value and development has led to the splitting of farms and ranches. As Table 1 illustrates, there was less than half the amount of land in agriculture production in 2012 (100,944 acres) than in 1945 (216,678 acres), the number of farms increased 2 (131 farms in 1945, 255 in 2012) and the average size of farms decreased (1,654 acres in 1945, 396 acres in 2012). USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service also reports that in 2012, 72 percent of the farms (183 of the total 255 farms) declared a net income loss.

Table 1. Census of agriculture for Douglas County, Nevada, 1945 to 2012, from USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service in five year increments.


Total Farms

Land in Farms (acres)

Average Size of Farm (acres)

Total County Land Area (acres)

Farm Land as Percentage of Total Land Area





















































































These trends suggest the sustainability of agriculture is in jeopardy. To further investigate, Carson Valley agricultural producers’ perspectives were sought to determine their insights on what the future holds for agriculture in the Carson Valley. These producers are at the heart of the equation, as they are the stewards of the landscape and the foundation of the Carson Valley culture. These results should help the community better understand the challenges the local agricultural industry faces and determine how we might work together to preserve agriculture and the rural character.


This research was approved by the Institutional Review Board of the University of Nevada, Reno. A list of prospective interviewees was composed of agricultural producers representing a wide range of age and Carson Valley agriculture property acreage by the research investigator familiar with this audience. Between June 2016 and June 2017, producers were contacted by phone and, if willing, an appointment was made to meet at the Extension office, their home or alternate place to conduct the interview. It was originally planned to conduct up to 30 interviews. However, data began to replicate, indicating a saturation point. Thus a total of 24 interviews were completed. Responses were analyzed using the constant comparative method, whereby themes are derived from the data through inductive reasoning. Responses to each question are summarized below. Response themes are displayed in tables from most to least 3 frequently mentioned. Numbers in parentheses indicate the number of producers responding in that thematic topic. Producers may have given answers that correspond to more than one theme. Thus the total number of responses may exceed 24, the total number of respondents.

20 Years From Now

Producers were asked to describe agriculture in the Carson Valley 20 years from today. About half of the producers felt the future was not in the cards for small agricultural operations, as it is not economically viable (Table 2.). Respondents thought that there will be fewer small agricultural operations for this reason. The economy of scale is not favorable for small operations, as the costs are too great and the revenue is too little. One producer mentioned, “An operation on 150 acres is probably not going to make it today,” and another said, “Twenty years ago one needed 500 acres free and clear to make money.” It was mentioned that small agricultural operations can’t afford to be here, and typically these producers can’t afford to buy land and expand. One respondent said, “In agriculture we consider it to be a successful year when we make $400/acre. At the price of $18,000/acre means it would take nearly 50 years to pay this property off selling agricultural products. It just doesn’t pencil.” Another producer said, “Ag is land rich and money poor. It only makes a little bit of money – if that.” One respondent labeled agriculture as “a rich man’s hobby. An ag operation has to be big or one has to have another income.”

Table 2. Response themes and number of producers with comments in corresponding theme for question A – How would you describe agriculture in the Carson Valley 20 years from now?

Response themes to “How would you describe agriculture in the Carson Valley 20 years from now?”

  • Small operations not viable – fewer small operations (12)
  • More growth and development – less agriculture (8)
  • More conservation easements (6)
  • Big agriculture will remain (6)
  • More working together – large and small agriculture, municipalities and Tribe (4)
  • Open, green, sustainable (4)
  • Younger generation not interested and can’t afford to be in agriculture (3)
  • Agriculture will remain – we’re not going to subdivide the entire valley (3)
  • More government intrusion and more regulations (3)
  • More hay due to greater local demand, but less cow/calf and more steers (2)

About a third of the respondents thought Carson Valley will experience more growth and development, and that will lead to less agriculture overall. One producer said, “The bigger ranches will be split into smaller parcels, and the Carson Valley will have more hobby farmers.” Another respondent said, “There will be a major influx of people, and new people don’t have a clue about agriculture.” Responses categorized into this theme stretched into growth comments, such as, “Any developable land will be developed – we’ll look like Reno,” and, “Ag may be nonexistent.”

Settelmeyer and Rieman family. Photo by: Carson Magazine.
Settelmeyer and Rieman family. Photo by: Carson Magazine.

Of those who thought agriculture has some hope of surviving development pressure, about a third felt that new technology and agricultural practices will take root. In the eyes of these respondents, more drought-tolerant crops will be grown and irrigation efficiencies will be improved. One described it as “new western technology with old western tradition.”

Many viewed the impact of conservation easements as positive and thought they are needed to make a true difference in the preservation of agriculture and to help tie water to the land. It was the belief of 25 percent of respondents that land with conservation easements will remain in agriculture as this option affords agriculture, greater viability.

A quarter of the respondents felt that the large operations will remain 20 years from now. One respondent said, “The main footprint of ag, the mammoth is Bently. It’s the picture of ag in Carson Valley.” Another producer said, “Bently and Park – the big ones will remain.”

Other less common responses were categorized into the following themes. Roughly 17 percent of producers envisioned a future of more entities working together, such as large and small agriculture, municipalities and the Washoe Tribe. An open, green and sustainable agriculture future was envisioned by 17 percent of producers for Carson Valley. The younger generation is not interested and can’t afford to be in agriculture, agriculture will remain as we’re not going to subdivide the entire valley, and more government intrusion and more regulations were responses received from 13 percent of producers. And finally, about 8 percent of producers mentioned that there would be more hay due to greater local demand but less cow/calf and more steer operations.

Yes, But What Would You Like to See?

When the question was posed in a more positive light and ag producers were asked how they would like to describe the future of Carson Valley agriculture, the responses varied slightly from the previous question. About a quarter of the respondents would like to see agriculture prosper and for the Carson Valley to remain a garden spot (Table 3.). One producer said, “My family has depended on agriculture to support us for five generations. Obviously I’d like to see that continue.” In order for agriculture to be viable, about a quarter of the respondents claimed that agriculture needs to diversify and new practices are needed to improve profitability. One producer summed it up stating, “Aqua and hydroponics must be practiced to take advantage of growing throughout the year. We must start producing food crops, protein crops and move into precision
farming with soil and tissue analyses.” Another producer said, “I would like to see the agriculture community embrace opportunities in diverse

Table 3. Response themes and number of producers with comments in corresponding theme for question B – How would you like to describe the future of Carson Valley agriculture?

Response themes to “How would you like to describe the future of Carson Valley agriculture?”

  • Remain a garden spot with agriculture prospering (6)
  • Diversified/new practices (6)
  • Big agriculture will remain (5)
  • Limited development and greater adherence to Master Plan (4)
  • Integrated with the community and working together (4)
  • Agriculture stays in agriculture interests (4)
  • Remain in the family and able to expand (3)
  • Ample water preserved for agriculture (2)
  • More agritourism (1)
  • Floodplain not developed (1)
  • Less people and agriculture in the hands of the not wealthy (1)
  • More conservation easement funding (1)

Less than 25 percent of producers indicated they would like to see big agriculture remain. “Big ag producers have the capital and resources to continue. That is not the same for the small operator.” Another producer said, “The size of the operations will need to be big, but like to see something other than cattle and be economically viable to maintain the ag tax status.”

Roughly 17 percent of the respondents would like to see limited development and felt that could be accomplished with greater adherence to the Master Plan. Also, 17 percent would like to see the agricultural community better integrated, more united and working together with other community sectors. And about the same number of respondents would like to see agriculture stay in agricultural interests. One stated, “They would like the valley to have a nucleus of older, experienced agriculture interests. Need a critical
core. The new folks have different ideas about the valley.”

Responses received with less frequency included: agriculture should remain in the family and be able to expand; ample water preserved for agriculture; more agritourism; floodplain not developed; less people and ag in the hands of the not wealthy; and more conservation easement funding.

Reason for What You’d Like to See

After agricultural producers were asked how they would like to describe the future of agriculture in Carson Valley, they were asked to elaborate on why they would like to see these things. Half of the respondents stated that their vision for the future would help preserve the beauty of the valley (Table 4.). Some responses categorized into this theme included, “like open spaces;” “keeping the valley in agriculture is keeping it pretty and green’” “never tire of the view,” “like to see the mountains with little buildings,” and “good attractive environment.”

Table 4. Response themes and number of producers with comments in corresponding theme for question C – Explain why you’d like to see these things

Response themes to “Explain why you’d like to see these things”
  • Preservation of beauty (12)
  • Balance between development and agriculture/natural resources for overall community wellness (10)
  • People need to know and appreciate where their food comes from and respect agriculture practices (5)
  • Preservation of values, traditions, pride and quality of life (4)
  • Good relationships with neighbors/community as it was years ago (4)
  • A family legacy (4)
  • Love of the agriculture vocation (3)

A little less than half of the respondents stated they would like to see the future they described to achieve a balance between development and ag/natural resources for overall community wellness. One response was, “For quality of life, for the preservation of open space, air and water quality, carbon sequestration, river quality, watershed wellness – agriculture is a big player in all this.” Another said, “The health of agriculture and the health of our community are linked – can’t have one without the other.” Other responses were, “I would like to see a balance to the development pressures,” “Considering the land area in Carson Valley, there must be a balance between ag and development,” and “With more ag there is less flooding, or flooding problems are mitigated.”

People need to know and appreciate where their food comes from and respect ag practices was expressed by over 20 percent of the respondents. One producer stated there needs to be “more respect of ag operations, slow-moving farm equipment and livestock on the roadways. Today, people need to have more respect for the people that keep the lands so attractive – the people that create the environment for which others want to move here.” Another said, “People need to be informed and understand where their food comes from, the hard work and dirty hands it takes to put food on the table.”

Other reasons for ag future descriptions included preservation of values, traditions, pride and quality of life; good relationships with neighbors/community as it was years ago; a family legacy; and love of the agriculture vocation.

Andy and Carol Aldax. Photo by: Mark O’Farrell

The Support You Will Give

Agricultural producers were asked what they would be willing to do to support changes they expressed, such as preserving the beauty of the valley, balancing development and agriculture/natural resources, helping people understand where their food comes from and respecting agricultural practices. About a third of the respondents indicated that they would be willing to help educate and give advice (Table 5.). One producer said, “I would be willing to answer questions, write letters, keep people aware, conduct tours, and serve on
panels speaking about agriculture.” Another said, “Volunteer time in agriculture organizations, ag in the classroom, 4-H and FFA.” And another said, “Proactively encourage people to treat the ditches with respect.”

Almost 30 percent of producers said they would remain in agriculture and fight the battle of competing against development. Responses included: “We are competing against development,” “We could find a commodity that competes against development,” and “Not developing property, keeping it in ag which is gratifying and makes a difference in the community.” Another producer said, “What I can do personally is to continue to raise hay, cattle, horses and kids and not give in to the prices that people are willing to pay for Carson Valley property.”

Table 5. Response themes and number of producers with comments in corresponding theme for question D -What would you be willing to do to support this change?

Response themes to “What would you be willing to do to support this change?”

  • Education and advice (9)
  • Remain in agriculture and compete against development (7)
  • Model land stewardship (6)
  • Participate in local and state government to support agriculture (5)
  • Honor and support property rights (4)
  • Support funding for and procurement of more conservation easements (4)
  • Support economically viable agriculture (3)

Similar to the response of staying in the ag business, 25 percent of producers said that they were willing to help create the change they envisioned by modeling land stewardship. One producer stated he would “practice holistic land management, continue to learn and give back to the community.” Another said their business was “currently setting the example by implementing a range of environmentally sustainable practices. But these aren’t paying the bills.”

Participation in local and state government was mentioned by a little over 20 percent of the producers as a way to help create desired change. Participation was suggested by way of attending commissioner meetings, devoting time and money to make the Master Plan truly productive and workable, participating on numerous boards and committees, and working with the Legislature for a certification for Carson Valley natural designation to command a better price.

Other ways producers are willing to help create the agriculture future they envision for Carson Valley include honoring and supporting property rights, supporting funds for more conservation easements, and supporting economically viable agriculture.

Anticipated Changes to Your Operation

Producers were asked to describe how different their operation will look in five to ten years. A little over a third of the producers stated they would be changing crops and improving agricultural practices (Table 6.). Responses included: “planting more GMO (genetically modified organism) crops and being just as intense controlling noxious weeds,” “less hay and more alternative crops,” “moving from cattle and hay to grains, corn (non-GMO) and hops,” “no cows and less hay,” “more cattle and pumpkins and gradually do less hay,” “better quality hay and more production,” and “more efficient water, labor and equipment use.”

No change was envisioned by about the same number of producers, a little over a third. Responses included, “same as today,”“pretty much the same,”“not going to look different,” and “Hopefully my operation will look the same as it does today.” One producer stated, “I don’t see any changes in our operation over the next five to ten years in Carson Valley. Our operation as a whole continues to expand outside of Carson Valley. Farmers and ranchers have a target on their back. We will continue to deal with issues like water quality, endangered species act, methane gas and noxious weeds, just to name a few.”

Table 6. Response themes and number of producers with comments in corresponding theme for question E – How will your ag operation look different in five to ten years?

Response themes to “How will your ag operation look different in five to ten years?”

  • Change crops and agricultural practices (9)
  • No change (9)
  • Might sell, develop or lease out land (5)
  • Under consideration (3)
  • Participate in more agriculture education (2)
  • Lease land for agriculture (2)

More than 20 percent of producers thought they might sell, develop or lease their property out to other agriculture interests. One respondent stated, “In 10 years we are not going to be able to keep up. Relatives are not interested in working the property. Might sell to larger adjacent ranch owner.” Another producer said, “We might lobby to become a receiving area as allowed in the Master Plan, since the farm is adjacent to town.” There were a couple producers, however, that thought their land base might be expanded by leasing other agricultural property.

Another way in which operations might look different in the future was expressed as under consideration. One producer claimed they “were struggling to figure this out now. For instance, funding for weed control is not recoverable. We don’t recoup costs
associated with weed control with the value of additional yield. We are spending more and getting deeper in the hole. We are not developing the economy of scale of small acreage ag.” Another stated, “Change is going to be dependent on the water situation. Most likely will start looking into more drought-resistant crops.”

Two producers thought they would be more engaged in education efforts. One said, “The operation will have education and agritourism components.” And another stated they were “continually evolving and committed to volunteering more time in ag education and selling more meat directly to the consumer.”

Plans for Transferring Ownership

In regards to thoughts, concerns and plans for transferring property to future owners, a little over 40 percent of the respondents said they had taken steps in estate planning. Comments included, “All of the estate planning has been done. It is very important to plan and planning takes a long time to do right,” and “Because of having experience with this over a long period of time, we realize that estate planning can never begin too early.” The same number of responses were aimed at hopefully keeping the property in the family, depending on the kids and relatives. “Hopefully there is a kid in the family that wants to take over the farm,” and “Right now it’s family owned but not sure if some of the younger relatives will want to take over the ownership/management,” were two of the responses. A number of producers recognized the challenges of dividing the farm between the family, as expressed by the comment, “Splitting the ranch among family members is problematic in that smaller ranches are typically not viable.” An equal number of responses were aimed at keeping the land open, in agriculture and undeveloped. If the land is to go outside of the family one producer said they would “transfer to the same mind set and legally restrict development to preserve open space.” Other responses included, “Not going to subdivide,” “We are trying to keep it green and open but at a cost – it’s like expensive lawn maintenance,” “We want to create a legacy by preserving open undeveloped land,” and “We want to preserve our small watershed capillary and hope this encourages others holding 20-to-40 acre pieces to do the same.”

Table 7. Response themes and number of producers with comments in corresponding theme for question F – What are your thoughts, concerns and plans for transferring your property to future owners?

Response themes to “What are your thoughts, concerns and plans for transferring your property to future owners?”

  • Family estate planning (10)
  • Keep in the family – depending on kids and relatives (10)
  • Try to keep open, in agriculture and undeveloped (10)
  • Sell/parcel for development (7)

Aside from plans to leave the property to family or intent to keep it in agriculture by other means, there a little less than 30 percent of responses were to sell/parcel land for development. Responses included: “We are working on estate planning, but likely we will be forced to sell to people wanting to subdivide and put houses on it,” “Keep my home and a few acres, which will go to the family, and use proceeds to purchase some rental property,” “The offspring will keep what is left of the property, as a good portion will be sold in 19-acre parcels to whittle down the value to under the 55 percent cap to avoid estate taxes,” and “Selling and getting out – I’m too old to start over elsewhere.”

Agriculture Preservation Ideas

Producers were asked to identify the ideas generated from the 2014 Carson Valley Agricultural Tourism Assessment and the 2013 Valley Vision Plan (Table 8.). Respondents indicated their ideas for the most effective ways to preserve agriculture in Carson Valley. Opportunities and projects viewed to have the most promise were Eagles & Agriculture and other activities, farmers markets, guest ranch and other on-farm activities, and developing a branding strategy that distinguishes the quality of locally grown products and increases market demand. No one idea stood out that all considered to be the silver bullet for preserving agriculture. Many producers commented that all ideas had merit and could be successful to someone. “All these ideas may be effective in the hands of the right people. Many of the old-timers are set in their ways, and many don’t want to branch out,” “The tourism ideas are appropriate for the right person – it takes a special person. Need to take on a new mindset to attract enough business to make the insurance costs worthwhile,” and “Any of these ideas may help somebody. Every operation is unique, and there is no one thing that will help everyone.”

A common theme of education emerged as important to the preservation of agriculture in Carson Valley while reviewing the Tourism Assessment and Valley Vision Plan. Responses included, “All (these ideas) make people aware of ag,” and “The biggest thing is education that ag is not a bunch of rich folks and that there is considerable effort and risk associated with ag. People need to know that ag benefits the entire community. The ag community understands land and water and where water flows. They are our stewards.”

Table 8. Potential agricultural opportunities and projects from the 2014 Carson Valley Agricultural Tourism Assessment and the 2013 Valley Vision Plan with number of agriculture producers considering these as good ideas to preserve agriculture in parentheses.

Carson Valley Agricultural Tourism Assessment – July 2014


1. Eagles & Ag and other activities – investigate related products that may be developed for other times of the year, such as guided ranch tours, wildlife viewing, and related art exhibitions in local galleries or at farmers markets. (10)

2. Farmers markets. (8)

3. Premium Carson Valley agricultural products. (4)

4. Existing core agritourism destinations. Create a Carson Valley agritourism package that provides maps, interpretation materials, and offers on-site guided tours linking existing agritourism destinations. (2)

5. Northern Nevada agritourism conference. (1)

6. Agritourism destination and events. Work with Travel Nevada and other regional marketing organizations to develop an agritourism marketing category. (2)

7. Way finding. (0)

8. Agritourism event. (2)

9. Guest ranch and other on-farm activities. (9)

10. Scenic highway farm trails program. (2)

11. Northern Nevada agritourism alliance. A wider regional approach may increase agritourism visibility and encourage cooperative marketing resources for the region. (3)

Valley Vision – September 2013

New Economic Opportunities
Goal: Innovate local food and ag production as a means to preserve the region's ag heritage.

1. Develop a branding strategy that distinguishes the quality of locally grown projects and increases market demand. (10)

2. Promote the use of locally grown products as parts of other industries, including restaurants, regional farmers markets and community supported agriculture. (4)

3. Evaluate alternative agriculture practices to take advantage of the high-desert farming technology. (5)

Other Ideas to Preserve Agriculture

Many ideas to preserve Carson Valley agriculture were expressed by producers. About 67 percent felt that education, communication and community relationships is a critical approach (Table 9.). Responses included, “The community needs to understand the value of our ag lands and the ecosystem services they provide,” “Encourage people to come to the table. Use the assessors list to make contact and attract the currently disinterested. There seems to be a lack of motivation from our ag producers to get engaged. This issue is bigger than weed control,” “People must come together to save agriculture,” “We must focus on improving communications and having a dialogue on preserving the valley and keeping it green. Leadership needs to improve, as we are all in this together,” and “The non-ag people need to support agriculture and not complain about the noise, dust and slow-moving equipment. They need to be more accepting of these conditions.”

Another means of preserving agriculture is to address regulations, zoning and policies as mentioned in 67 percent of the responses. These covered a range of issues, including: “We need to have more progressive zoning regulations enabling agritourism events,” “Legislation on farm equipment, such as self-propelled bailers, need to be introduced to lessen regulation requirements,” “Allow ranchers that own more than 100 acres to split off a 2-acre parcel every five years,” “Allow for affordable housing for ag workers. More flexibility for ag zoning and specialized housing, such as mobile homes for housing workers,” and “Establish a hold-harmless law for agritourism operations.” There were also sentiments expressed for the county to be less restrictive in their control of what agricultural landowners do on their property, including: “Leave us alone. Know that the ag producers are not going to abuse the land, and they will care for these resources,” and “The county needs to keep off the ag producers’ backs.”

Conservation easements and Transfer Development Rights (TDRs) were recognized as good mechanisms to preserve agriculture by nearly 50 percent of the producers. Responses included: “The conservation easement tool has worked well and not overburdened landowners with arduous oversight,” “Conservation easements are really the right way to preserve agriculture. We need to protect the land. Ag is preserved when the ag producers are making money,” and “Conservation easements and the TDR program are good funding mechanisms to help ag to be more sustainable.”

Table 9. Response themes and number of producers with comments in corresponding theme for question G – What are some other ways to preserve Carson Valley agriculture?

Response themes to “What are some other ways to preserve Carson Valley agriculture?”

  • Education, communication and community relationships (16)
  • Address regulations, zoning and policies (16)
  • Conservation easements Transfer Development Rights (TDRs) (11)
  • Agriculture diversification (9)
  • Reduce tax burden (7)
  • Help make small agriculture viable (4)
  • Stop or reduce development (4)
  • Keep water on our Carson Valley properties (2)

Ag diversification ideas included hydroponics, organic farming, managed intensive grazing, vegetable production, less water-demanding crops, smaller high-intensity operations and indoor farming. Responses in regard to reducing tax burden included: eliminate inheritance tax, keep agricultural tax rate in place, give tax breaks to agricultural property and operations, and reduce taxes on water rights and resale of farm equipment. Helping to make small agriculture viable was expressed in the responses, including: “Land is so valuable and the economics are such that ag can’t compete. It is a limiting factor. One almost needs unlimited resources to make a go of it,” “How can we compensate the ag producer and make it a little easier to keep ag in place,” and “A major obstacle is the cost of doing business, and ag is not the highest and best use of land value.” Stopping or reducing development was offered as a means of preserving agriculture by restricting or reducing residential subdivisions and industry. It was also mentioned it is important to keep water on our Carson Valley properties.

Where Do We Go From Here?

This research has identified the ag community’s desire to the see the Carson Valley remain a garden spot, one where agriculture provides much of the beauty we enjoy today. It is believed that the large ranches will stay intact, but the small-scale operations are not viable and thus may not remain in business. The agricultural community understands the need to diversify in terms of the crops they grow and the practices they implement. However, the pressure of development the fact that highest and best use of land is commercial, industrial and residential rather than agriculture tempts agricultural landowners to sell their property. About 30 percent of the producers interviewed thought they might pursue this option. On one hand, the agricultural community would like to see more balance between development and agriculture and our natural resources, keeping development out of prime agricultural lands and floodplains unobstructed. But on the other hand, producers want less regulations and the opportunity to do what they want with their property.

Carson Valley in the foreground and Jobs Peak under the cloud.
Photo by: Douglas County Valley Vision, Design Workshop.

Ag producers have provided meaningful insights for how agriculture may be preserved in the Carson Valley. However, the agriculture community cannot do it alone. The entire community must embrace and act on a vision to keep Carson Valley in an agronomic state. Only by working together will the Carson Valley continue to support a viable agricultural component. Simply put, the agricultural future of the Carson Valley is not solely in the hands of the agricultural community, but in the hands of all residents. Shared decision-making builds stronger working relationships and understanding of the true nature of the problems being faced. The challenge is preserving a component that adds greatly to the quality of life in Carson Valley.

Cooperative Solutions

Agricultural producers recognize the need for the nonagricultural community to respect and appreciate agriculture. They claim that most don’t understand where our food comes from, the hard work required to produce our food, and the fact that agricultural producers are not flush with cash. Though Carson Valley agriculture producers love the agricultural vocation, many are getting older, reaching and exceeding retirement age. Inheritance tax regulations make it difficult, if not fiscally impossible, to leave large properties to family members. And if the property must be divided to avoid such penalties, it renders smaller farms unprofitable. With this being the case, one can imagine how appealing the option is to parcel and sell.

These and other agriculture diminishing factors must be well understood by the nonagricultural community. Producers interviewed expressed the importance of educating others, communicating the issues agriculture faces and building community relationships. When the challenges of agricultural preservation are understood by the entire community, sustainable solutions are more likely to be discovered and implemented. If the preservation of agriculture is a priority of our citizenry, then all must work cooperatively to craft solutions and work together to implement them.

Support Conservation Easement Funding

Conservation easements and Transfer Development Rights (TDRs) are mechanisms to remove or relocate development rights, respectively. Conservation easements, in particular, have been gaining popularity in the Carson Valley amongst agricultural landowners over the last decade. Agricultural producers are compensated when development rights are removed, the land remains in private ownership and this condition persists if the land is sold. The number of willing candidates interested in obtaining conservation easements exceeds available funds. Funding for Carson Valley conservation easements has come predominantly from land trusts, such as The Nature Conservancy and BLM's Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act. Agricultural producers support the effort to secure more funding for conservation easements. In 2000, Douglas County had a ballot measure for ¼ cent sales tax to retire development rights for open space, natural areas and stream corridors. The measure failed, with 56 percent voting against it. Would the community support such a measure if put to another vote? Should the community work to discover other funding mechanisms? Today, the Carson Valley community must weigh the urgency and importance of preserving agriculture and take action.


Douglas County Master Plan Update 2016 Survey Results. Wells Barnett Associates, LLC.

Glaser, B.G. & Strauss, A.L. (1967). The discovery of grounded theory: Strategies for qualitative research. New York: Aldine De Gruyter, 28-52.

USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service. (2017)

Nevada Revised Statute 361A.090

Carson Valley agricultural tourism assessment draft report. (2014). Chuck Nozicka Consulting, Tourism and Recreation Planning, Sacramento, CA, July.

Douglas County valley vision: A vision for a community to match the scenery. (2013). Design Workshop, Sept.

Growth at the ballot box 52 state locality. (2016). Brookings Institution Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy / State Resource Strategies.

Douglas County Agriculture Element Draft. (2017).


The author extends appreciation to the Carson Valley ag producers that participated in this research project and for the contributions they continue to make in being effective stewards of our beautiful valley. Recognition is also extended to Jack Jacobs for statistical information, but moreover, for his extraordinary passion, vision and energy to preserve agriculture in Carson Valley.

The University of Nevada, Reno is an Equal Employment Opportunity/Affirmative Action employer and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, age, creed, national origin, veteran status, physical or mental disability, sexual orientation, genetic information, gender identity, or gender expression in any program or activity it operates. The University of Nevada employs only United States citizens and aliens lawfully authorized to work in the United States.

Lewis, S. 2017, The Future of Agriculture in the Carson Valley: Agriculture Producer Perspectives, Extension | University of Nevada, Reno, FS-17-10

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