Early last month Steve Case and Gerald Levin announced the merger of America Online (AOL) and Time Warner. It was a $172 billion deal that sent Wall Street brokers scrambling to analyze the impact such a mega-merger would have on the stock market.

One of the winners in the AOL Time Warner deal is Ted Turner, the founder of CNN and the "Superstation." Mr. Turner, officially vice-chairman of Time Warner, has a huge stake in the success of the merger-$11.3 billion in shares and $314.1 million in options. It's estimated his worth exceeds $9 billion, and analysts are watching closely as they expect Mr. Turner will not be content to sit on the sidelines and count his money.

A month before the AOL-Time Warner deal was announced, Mr. Turner was completing an acquisition of his own. Although it didn't make national headlines, Mr. Turner's purchase of the 35,350-acre ZBar Ranch in Barber County, Kan., sent shock waves through the local ranching community. The price tag was $9 million, or about $255 per acre. With 1.4 million acres in six states, Mr. Turner's holdings surely represent one of the largest private ownership of land in the United States. (He also owns two ranches in Argentina.) Mr. Turner is also the owner of the world's largest herd of buffalo, and he reportedly dreams of a deal to supply buffalo meat to McDonald's. Even close observers say that sounds farfetched, but it may just be the challenge a 61-year-old billionaire needs.

Mr. Turner's continuing acquisitions of ranch land is further evidence of the dramatic changes coming to American agriculture. Wealth grown on Wall Street is being invested in rural America. In today's society, land ownership is the new status symbol. It's no longer enough to have two SUVs in the driveway. Everyone, it seems, wants their own 35-acre ranchette.

The most dramatic confrontations between old agriculture and new wealth are happening in western states, where mountain valleys and scenic views are coveted locations for new homes. (Mr. Turner built a "rustic" $2 million cabin on his Flying D Ranch in Montana.) The battle, however, rages in every state. Prime development land near metropolitan areas is selling by the square foot for astronomical prices. But even land hundreds of miles from a city grows in value every day.

Today's farmers and ranchers must now compete with urbanites who want a weekend retreat or a place to hunt. And not only do they drive agricultural land prices higher, they generally make poor neighbors when they buy a parcel. These new rural land-owners often don't understand the culture of rural life and many lack the common sense that comes from living a lifetime in a rural community. One rancher claims his newest neighbor demands that a new fence be built five feet behind the old fence on the rancher's property so the rancher's cows won't reach through the fence and eat the new neighbor's grass.

As Wall Street continues to boom, farmers and ranchers will continue to struggle with an invasion of new neighbors and all of the problems they bring. A Nebraska rancher believes cowboys are now being treated like the American Indians were 125 years ago-an obstacle to be driven from the mountains and the Plains by the new American settlers.

There are no easy answers to the widening economic gap between agriculture and the rest of America's economy. Certainly, improved profitability for cattle producers, which is forecast for the next two to three years, will help. But as long as Wall Street continues to create paper millionaires, ranchers will struggle with new neighbors, new environmental regulations and new threats to their livelihood and their way of life.