While great quantities of agricultural lands are being fragmented, others are being consolidated into huge ranches by people or corporations with such deep pockets that few folks can compete. Such changes are not necessarily bad: wealthy buyers can go a long way in saving agricultural land.

Still, it can be a bitter pill. Pete Ferrell ranches in the Flint Hills of Kansas, where Texas-based National Farms came in about six years ago. "Over-night they picked up massive amounts of acreage," Mr. Ferrell says. "Once they start playing ball in your town, it's hard for anyone else to play." Besides making great tracts of land unavailable for other ranchers, "the immediate
effect was that a lot of people were displaced out of jobs." And although he's made friends with the contract employees next door, "you don't have a neighbor anymore."

The silver lining, he says, is that there are still cows out there, instead of houses.

For more information about these and other options available to landowners, start with your cooperative extension office, the state department of agriculture, or livestock associations.

Help is also available from organizations such as: American Farmland Trust 413-586-4593 www.farmland.org or The Sonoran Institute 406-587-7331 www.sonoran.org