Joseph Fitzsimmons

Owner of San Pedro Ranch in Carrizo, TX

Biographical Sketch
Joseph Fitzsimmons is a graduate of Deerfield Academy, Lewis & Clark College and the University of Texas Law School. In 1989 he became manager of the San Pedro Ranch which was experiencing serious financial problems. Mr. Fitzsimmons has restored the ranch’s financial health, and rebuilt it as a world-class wildlife management and habitat facility as well as a cattle-breeding operation. Mr. Fitzsimmons is an officer of the Texas Wildlife Association and director of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association. He served on the Texas Governor’s Task Force on Conservation. Mr. Fitzsimmons continues to practice natural resource law and is a partner in a San Antonio based company that develops nature-based properties.

Presentation Summary
The San Pedro Ranch contains 26,000 acres located near the Mexican border south of Carrizo Springs, Texas. Fifty years ago San Pedro was a fairly conventional Texas cattle ranch of 100,000 acres before being divided by three generations of the Fitzsimmons family. Unfavorable weather, especially drought, gradually made the 2000 head cattle operation unprofitable. When the younger Fitzsimmons generation, the present owners, assumed management 13 years ago they were compelled to make dramatic changes both in terms of ranch management and business objectives in order to make the operation profitable.

The first significant change was adoption of a concept known as Holistic Resource Management or HRM. This idea originated in Zimbabwe twenty years ago when a gamekeeper observed that national parklands were supporting twice as many grazing animals as adjacent private land used for cattle grazing. The gamekeeper concluded that wild animals simply moved to other grazing areas before vegetation was over-grazed, while private land owners permitted cattle to graze continuously and this practice permanently damage the native vegetation. Apparently there is little scientific evidence to support the HRM theory because of the many complicating factors involved. Several scientists from Texas A & M and some ranchers do not agree with the HRM claims. Nevertheless San Pedro Ranch management adopted the HRM philosophy, along with some other related cultural practices, and growth of natural vegetation on the ranch has been substantially improved.

The second significant management change was made at San Pedro Ranch after it was observed that wildlife populations had markedly increased following adoption of HRM, also known as short duration grazing or rotational grazing. A decision was made to shift from traditional cattle production to the production of breeding stock with a smaller herd and stress development of the ranch’s potentialities as a private hunting and fishing facility.

Successful execution of the two management decisions returned San Pedro Ranch to profitability. About 72 percent of the ranch’s income is currently derived from visitors who pay to hunt for deer, quails, ducks and wild hogs or to fish for bass on the property. The remaining 18 percent of the ranch’s income is produced from the production of beefmaster cattle especially designed to meet the needs of Mexican cattle producers. The size of the present herd of cattle is substantially smaller than it was under the previous management scheme.

Texas land values are commonly estimated as equal to ten times the potential rental income. The average rental rate for land used exclusively for cattle grazing purposes in the area where San Pedro Ranch is located is $2 per acre. Use of ranch land for hunting and fishing may yield an additional $10 per acre. Accordingly development of hunting and fishing potentialities may add an additional $100 to land values. About 90 percent of the land in Texas is privately owned and provides in excess of 90 percent of the state’s fish and wildlife habitat. The hunters and fisherman using this habitat are the principal supporters of the state’s wildlife rather than conservation organizations, as is commonly believed.

Because of past experience San Pedro Ranch pays careful attention to trends that may further impact their region. One trend that is being carefully watched is the growing water shortage in Texas. In the western half of the state most of the water has been used by agriculture and large deficits in surface water have been offset by ground water from wells. Reserves of ground water are being continuously depleted. Meanwhile the Texas population has changed from 80 percent rural and 20 percent urban, to 80 percent urban and 20 percent rural. The Texas legislature now consists of more representatives from the Houston areas than from the entire western half of the state. This demographic trend may result in legislation designed to meet urban water requirement and restrictions on the use of water for agricultural purposes. Moreover, the growing demand for water in urban areas of Texas has created a demand for water development rights and such rights are being purchased from landowners. This trend may profoundly increase land values and alter land use.

A second factor that has affected San Pedro Ranch has been the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Range cattle can be produced in Mexico at less cost than in Texas. Further development of cattle production in Mexico to meet U.S. beef demands may ultimately impact San Pedro’s cattle breeding operations.

A third trend of concern to San Pedro Ranch has been a decline in the sale of hunting and fishing licenses. This trend may bring about a reduction in the value of ranch land for hunting and fishing purposes.

The problems confronting San Pedro Ranch are comparable to problems facing production agriculture elsewhere in the U.S. This large cattle ranch in an arid part of Texas has successfully dealt with its immediate economic problems and is preparing to cope with new problems that may be equally formidable.

In an effort to provide wide-ranging views and perspectives regarding the practice of and issues surrounding agriculture, the Philadelphia Society for Promoting Agriculture (PSPA) seeks speakers representing a variety of perspectives. The statements and opinions they present are strictly their own and do not necessarily represent the views of PSPA.