Las Vegas

Government funds compete with small private ranches in southern Nevada

LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — The Southern Nevada Water Authority desires different western water districts to preserve resources in the face of the area’s 20-year drought, saying it’s wasteful to develop sure water-intensive crops in parched desert landscapes. But data present the company will not be heeding its personal recommendation.

Farmers are likely to fields in southern Nevada

California’s Imperial Valley is a breadbasket the place all method of winter greens are grown, however a drive by means of the valley makes clear what it grows most of all. Field after discipline of thick inexperienced alfalfa. It takes seven ft of water to develop every acre of alfalfa, all of which is fed to animals and most of which is exported to Asia, particularly to China.

The Imperial Irrigation District will get extra Colorado River water than the whole lot of Nevada and Arizona mixed. This is why Nevada water officers have urged modifications in how water from the troubled river is used.

“Ordinarily, I stay out of my neighbor’s business,” explains John Entsminger, common supervisor of the Las Vegas Valley Water District. “When you have a math problem and 90 percent of the water use is in agriculture, and 80 percent of that 80 percent is for forage crops which are largely exported, it’s hard not to see how that’s not part of the solution.”

Many say ranchers and farmers from Nevada ought to heed that recommendation. Water-intensive alfalfa grown in the driest state in the nation is Nevada’s second largest agricultural product after beef.

One ranch in White Pine County which is a part of a seven-property empire that stretches throughout greater than 100 miles north to south, covers an enormous 950,000 acres total. But who owns that huge space of farmland? You do. The Great Basin Ranch, because it’s identified, is owned and operated by a public company — the Southern Nevada Water Authority. And the one crop that’s grown on that land? Alfalfa. 8,600 tons of it final year alone.

Photo of Great Basin Ranch

Many might surprise why a public company in the ranching business competes straight towards household farms. 15 years in the past, the SNWA paid $79 million to purchase seven ranches that, on the time, have been valued at one-tenth of that quantity. The properties have been supposed as beachheads for the SNWA’s plan to build greater than 300 miles of pipes and pumps to siphon billions of gallons of rural groundwater to be used in thirsty Las Vegas. Cost estimates for the project grew from $1 billion to $5 billion to $15 billion earlier than the water authority pulled it off the desk. The plan was scrapped, not due to the expense, however as a result of opponents gained a number of court docket circumstances arguing that taking water from rural aquifers would drain the water desk and create an enormous lifeless zone.

Now, years after the pipeline plan was supposedly killed, the SNWA continues to be pouring public resources into its ranches. Simeon Herskovits, an lawyer for the Great Basin Water Network calls the exercise suspicious.

Photo of Simeon Herskovits, lawyer for the Great Basin Water Network

“There’s no real reasonable explanation for them continuing to play the game of ranch ownership and management up here in White Pine County,” Herskovits says. “They are still somehow angling in the future for a toehold or a foothold to allow them to take rural water.”

Herskovits was battling most cancers when he prevailed over a battery of high-powered legal professionals employed by the SNWA. Records present the company has retained an extended checklist of pricey legislation corporations to struggle its varied battles. The cows and sheep of the SNWA ranches have their very personal lawyer lobbyist who’s paid $600,000 per year to characterize them on the Nevada legislature.

Those authorized prices don’t usually get included in the monetary statements of the Great Basin Ranch, statements that seem to point out the ranch is working in the black. The ranch spent thousands and thousands to purchase all new stock. It spent thousands and thousands extra on new watering pivots to develop its alfalfa, a formidable array of top-of-the-line tractors and vehicles and new barns to accommodate the hay. Unlike its smaller neighbors, this ranch doesn’t must pay a mortgage, property taxes or license charges for its automobiles.

Photo of sheep rancher Hank Vogler

Hank Vogler, a sheep rancher, says he has been in the crosshairs of the SNWA ever since he got here out against the pipeline plan. Although the authority vowed to be a great neighbor when it purchased the seven ranches, it has been embroiled in a number of disputes with a number of of its smaller rivals.

Expensive authorized fights over grazing rights have drained household ranches already strained by the drought in line with obtained from the SNWA.

Records obtained from the Southern Nevada Water Authority present ongoing surveillance of Hank Vogler and his livestock. The SNWA ranch has filed quite a few complaints about Vogler with different businesses which led to extra complaints, investigations and bills. Vogler says the battle is depleting his whole life financial savings.

“I spent my entire life trying to do this, and now I’m being pushed aside,” Vogler stated. “Destroyed.”

Representatives from the SNWA declined an in-person interview however did reply to written questions by way of electronic mail.

Q: How a lot alfalfa was produced in the final 3 years, how a lot did the sale of the alfalfa earn?

A: The manufacturing of alfalfa can vary year-over-year relying on a lot of variables, together with drought and climate occasions; soil situations; crop rotation schedules; and different components.

The SNWA’s Great Basin Ranch has about 1500 acres of alfalfa in annual manufacturing, and alfalfa manufacturing over the previous three years has averaged about 7,783 tons per year.

While many of the produced alfalfa is offered to space operators or to regional brokers, a number of the produced crop is reserved to feed Great Basin Ranch livestock, particularly in years the place vary situations are poor and don’t assist regular grazing actions.


  • Alfalfa Produced = 7,184 tons
  • Average Price = $180/ton
  • Total Value = $1,293,120


  • Alfalfa Produced = 8,169 tons
  • Average Price = $200/ton
  • Total Value = $1,633,800


  • Alfalfa Produced = 7,996 tons
  • Average Price = $290/ton
  • Total Value = $2,318,840

Q: Where was the alfalfa offered in the final 3 years and who buys it?

A: Numerous native operators in Nevada and adjoining states purchase alfalfa, 3-Way, Triticale and oats produced on the Great Basin Ranch. Those native consumers are outlined beneath. Additionally, some Great Basin Ranch merchandise are offered on the open market by means of brokers, as is frequent in the agricultural business. The alfalfa offered on the open market is graded on a lot of variables corresponding to protein content material and residual feed worth, which assist to find out value. The Great Basin Ranch produces a high-quality alfalfa and different crop with out the usage of pesticides, and with low weed content material.

Local Buyers:

  • Platt Livestock – 3Way & Triticale
  • Art Andrae – 3Way, Tri & Alfalfa
  • Robert Eldridge – Alfalfa
  • B&W Trucking – 3Way, Oats, Triticale
  • McKay Livestock – 3Way, Oats, Triticale
  • Dave Wright – 3Way
  • Jack Cooper – Alfalfa
  • Chris Collis – Alfalfa


  • The Gombos Company
  • Sage Hill Northwest
  • D&M Hay Sales
  • Haasen Tara Feed
  • Aldahra/ACX

Q: Same question for sheep and cattle, how a lot was offered in the final 3 years, and who buys it?

A: Below is an summary of income generated from the sale and public sale of commodities offered by the Great Basin Ranch over the previous three years, in addition to the consumers:


Cattle Revenue

  • FY19/20 – $1,435,653
  • FY20/21 – $2,498,471
  • FY21/22 – $1,413,193

Cattle Buyers

  • Twin Falls Livestock Auction
  • Superior Livestock Auction
  • Loma Livestock
  • Geyser Cattle Company
  • Bill Martin Livestock
  • Fallon Livestock
  • Producers Livestock


Sheep Revenue

  • FY19/20 – $311,641
  • FY20/21 – $600,771
  • FY21/22 – $733,271

Sheep Buyers

  • Northern Livestock Video Auction
  • Twin Falls Livestock Auction
  • Fallon Livestock
  • Producers Livestock


Wool – Revenue as acquired in FY

  • FY19/20 – $119,846
  • FY20/21 – $76,854
  • FY21/22 – $144,765

Wool Buyer

  • Utah Wool Marketing Association

Q: What is the long-term purpose/mission of the SNWA ranch? Now that the agricultural groundwater plan is formally off the desk, has SNWA thought of promoting the ranch operation?

A: As you might be conscious, in spring 2020 the Southern Nevada Water Authority and its Board of Directors made the choice to defer the Clark, Lincoln and White Pine Counties Groundwater Development Project (GDP), ensuing in the withdrawal of pending groundwater purposes, relinquishment of federal rights of method; and withdrawal from federal stipulations regarding Spring, Dry Lake, Cave and Delamar valleys.

The Board additionally directed SNWA to keep up the property associated to the Great Basin Ranch and its operation. Therefore, SNWA continues to protect and preserve these ranch-related property – together with (however not restricted to) present water rights; property rights; grazing rights; gear, services, capital property; and associated pure resources throughout the space. 

Since the GDP was deferred little greater than two years in the past, SNWA continues to function the Great Basin Ranch whereas additionally contemplating different choices to profit the realm’s pure resources, together with considering partnership alternatives with federal and state useful resource administration businesses and non-governmental organizations associated to environmental stewardship. SNWA can be contemplating alternatives to review and exhibit rising agricultural applied sciences and practices to enhance water effectivity for agricultural manufacturing, which can have purposes throughout the Colorado River Basin.  

Q: How a lot water does the ranch use every year and are there plans to reduce or proceed utilizing it?

A: The purpose is to place the water resources property associated to the Great Basin Ranch to helpful use to keep up these property property and maintain them in good standing with the State of Nevada’s water legal guidelines. SNWA has roughly 56,550 acre-feet are floor water rights, and 11,950 acre-feet of groundwater rights. Over the previous 5 year, the Great Basin Ranch has pumped a median of 6,315 acre-feet per year of its groundwater rights. Surface water utilization varies year-over-year relying on precipitation, quantity of acreage in manufacturing, and variety of livestock in a given year.

Q: Has SNWA obtained a written authorized opinion stating it’s legally permissible for this authorities company to compete straight towards private ranchers and private enterprise?  Can we receive a duplicate?

A: As a joint-powers political subdivision, SNWA can, amongst different issues, buy, obtain, maintain and use personal and actual property wherever located. Since ranching commodities are purchased and offered on the open market, there isn’t a direct competitors with different ranching operators in phrases of products and companies offered. SNWA additionally works to attenuate impacts in shared grazing areas with different operators, whereas defending the rights that SNWA maintains beneath these permits.

SNWA operates the Great Basin Ranch and makes use of its grazing rights in a considerably comparable method as earlier ranch house owners. The Great Basin Ranch, nonetheless, has been identified to forgo or restrict a few of its permitted seasonal grazing actions if (and when) vary situations are poor and the place continued grazing might harm the pure resources. In these cases, SNWA will maintain livestock on its deeded property and supply feed by way of the crops produced by the Great Basin Ranch. 

Q: Has SNWA sought or obtained a written authorized opinion relating to the legality of a authorities company (SNWA) holding a federal grazing allow?

A: The Interior Board of Land Appeals, Office of Hearing and Appeal concluded SNWA can maintain grazing permits once they dismissed the N4 Grazing Board’s attraction on June 23, 2022 difficult BLM’s issuance of grazing permits (NV-L000-2021-04).  

Q: SNWA vowed to be “a good neighbor” when it first bought the properties. In mild of a number of ongoing conflicts, authorized and in any other case, with rival ranchers, does it really feel as if it met its promise?

Yes, SNWA has maintained its dedication to being a great neighbor. SNWA helps a lot of native organizations, packages and occasions, and has additionally assisted federal businesses, non-governmental organizations, and different ranching operators in the realm through the years. To assist be sure that White Pine County and Lincoln County revenues will not be adversely impacted, SNWA voluntarily gives annual fee in lieu of taxes to these counties. 

Disputes between sheep operators and cattle operators existed lengthy earlier than SNWA acquired the Great Basin Ranch and its property, together with grazing rights for areas shared between sheep and cattle operators. SNWA has invested honest and sincere efforts to barter and settle disputes with cattle operators inside Dry Lake Valley, creating truthful and mutual agreements that weren’t efficiently accepted by different events.

While there have been conflicts with the operation often called Need More Sheep Company, who has been discovered trespassing in areas unpermitted and/or inside grazing allotments outdoors of their permitted rights, these conflicts are transferring by means of authorized processes.

SNWA has invested in making rangeland enhancements to guard grazing areas for all customers; carried out methods to make sure home and wild sheep herds don’t come in contact; aided in creating and enhancing roads; participated in numerous organic research with federal companions; and restricted or foregone grazing actions in areas with poor vary situations to permit for native plant recovery, demonstrating rangeland stewardship. 

SNWA additionally has different neighbors in the realm and shared grazing allotments with different operators the place no battle exists, as exemplified in the Muleshoe, Pioche Bench and Atlanta use areas which might be shared with one other operator on the Geyser Ranch.

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