photo by Mark Matson

This article is featured in the Winter 2021 issue of Texas LAND magazine. Click here to find out more.


Do you find yourself scanning the property listings on Land.com? Maybe you’re eying the stunning ranches in the Texas LAND ads. Or perhaps you already own your perfect piece of Texas.

Whether it’s your land—or the land of your dreams—consider how to use your property to your advantage and enjoyment. 

Putting the land into agricultural production or following an approved wildlife management plan can significantly lower property taxes. In many cases, it also can support the ecology of the region. With a special use valuation, the land is appraised based on its productive agricultural value, rather than its market value. While many new landowners lease their land for livestock or hay production, others opt to launch an agricultural enterprise themselves. 

Following are stories of three Texas families who are putting their land to agricultural use in innovative ways they hadn’t considered until just a few years ago.

photo by Mark Matson

Trading the Suburbs for Longhorn Cattle & Rural Living

Dean Whitlock used to commute two hours from the Dallas suburbs to his stone business in Erath County west of Fort Worth. 

Not anymore. 

Now he and his wife, Sandra, raise longhorn cattle on a ranch they purchased near the quarry. And they don’t miss big-city conveniences one bit.

“We’ve even decided we don’t need to travel,” Dean says. “Our place is pure paradise to us.”

The couple made the move after becoming empty nesters in 2016. Following a long search, they found 250 acres that featured grassy pastures and stunning views. It also included two houses, two barns and a swimming pool. 

Ag Lending Specialist

At first, they considered a traditional bank loan. Then they heard about a lender that specializes in ag-related financing.

“A commissioner here recommended Lone Star Ag Credit,” Dean says. “We closed on the land in March 2017. The next year, when we built our new modern ranch-style home, Lone Star was there for us.”

The Whitlocks returned to the rural lending cooperative again in 2020, when they bought 50 adjoining acres.

“Everyone at Lone Star Ag Credit is so welcoming and enthusiastic,” he says. “They’re genuine folks who want to help people accomplish  their dreams.”

Superior Longhorn Herd

To keep their land in agricultural use and retain their ag-use property tax valuation, the Whitlocks decided to raise longhorn cattle. The Texas icons are prized for their extremely long horns, which can measure 90 inches or more from tip to tip. They’re docile, tough cattle, too.

In June 2017, the Whitlocks bought six registered Texas longhorns. Intent on developing a superior herd, they researched the longhorn cattle business and hired a consultant. 

Today their herd of 60 longhorns boasts high-quality genetics. The Whitlocks have already earned a reputation as outstanding breeders, having won the Texas Longhorn Breeders Association Grand Champion Female Award in 2020 and other awards.

“Longhorns are seeing a huge renaissance in activity and prices,” Dean says. “It’s exciting to be a part of that. We also love the camaraderie in this business.”

A Magnet for Family

Slower-paced days and wide-open spaces on the couple’s ranch convinced family members to leave the suburbs, as well. Today, two of their children, Sandra’s parents and two of Dean’s siblings either have homes on the ranch or live nearby.

“As a big family, we get together three or four times a week to share a meal or play games,” Dean says. “The country lifestyle is so powerful, real and enriching. It makes all the difference in the world. Sometimes I can’t believe we ever lived in the city.”

photo by John B. Sutton Jr.

Growing Grapes and Making Wine in Ranch Country 

The Roper family of Muenster, Texas, proves what one can accomplish with the right land and the right vision. In their case, they’re intent on adding their 4R Ranch Vineyards & Winery to the list of popular U.S. winery destinations.

Located 90 minutes from downtown Dallas, 4R Ranch is set on nearly 1,200 acres that offer perfect grape-growing conditions and scenic vistas overlooking the southern Red River Valley.

Waco dentist W.C. Roper and his wife, Suzanne, purchased the property in 1992, along with sons Walt and Chris, who today run 4R with their wives, Nicole and Nan. 

Repurposed Ranchland

For 18 years, the family leased the rolling land for cattle ranching. Then, in 2010, they decided to put the property to greater use.

They converted three acres to a vineyard, planting two acres of cabernet sauvignon and an acre of viognier grapes. Despite droughts, the ranch’s irrigation system and North Texas location have kept the vineyard thriving. And the Ropers plan to add more grape production.

What excites the family most, though, is the property’s potential to become a vineyard destination for weddings and special events.

“We knew we could be a more commercially viable operation if we sold the wines and hosted events such as weddings,” Chris says. “But to build a winery and tasting room would obviously require a large outlay of cash.”

photo by John B. Sutton Jr.

Financing for a Winery

While attending a Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association conference, Walt and Chris met lenders from Texas Farm Credit. That chance meeting led to a loan to construct the winery’s buildings. 

“The Texas Farm Credit loan officer working the booth was very knowledgeable about vineyard and winery finance,” Walt says.

The winery, which opened in 2016, features a tasting room with a deck overlooking the river valley. Inside is the Vineyard Flea Boutique. The Ropers restored a historic hay barn, turning it into a wine production building and special-events center. They also converted an existing home on the property into a guesthouse for weekend stays.

Each family member plays a role in the business. Walt oversees daily operations, while Nicole manages the tasting room, store and events. Chris designs the wine labels and builds lighting, signage and retail fixtures. Suzanne—“the grape boss”—keeps vigil on the vineyard so the younger generation can focus on their Dallas careers.

Extra Revenue Sources

Today, 4R Ranch is a diversified agribusiness that includes cattle ranching and deer-hunting leases. In addition, seven wind turbines generate royalties from an energy company. Mountain biking and outdoor concerts bring extra income, as well.

Ultimately, though, it’s about the grapes.

“We are blessed with really good topography, and we
have put a lot of money and thought into our
architecture,” says Walt. “And having hired an experienced winemaker, we are producing some great wine.”

photo by Randy Mallory

Producing a New Kind of Oil in South Texas

The South Texas brush country is a hotbed for oil and natural gas production. 

Now Stephen Coffman and his sister, Mary Rose, and her husband, Michael Paz, are producing another type of oil on their former cattle ranch—Texana Brands olive oil.

We wanted to do something to put the land back into production.”

—MICHAEL PAZ  Texana Brands olive oil.

“We wanted to do something to put the land back into production and have something to pass on to my daughter and my brother-in-law’s kids,” Michael says. “But we didn’t want to do anything typical.”

Largest Texas Grower and Bottler

In 2012, they planted 7,000 olive trees on the 128-year-old ranch between San Antonio and Laredo. But that wasn’t sufficient.

“We did our research and traveled to California and Australia, both major players in the olive oil industry,” Michael says. “We quickly found that those 7,000 trees weren’t a big enough operation to compete, so we planted an additional 23,000 trees the next year.”

They now manage more than 100,000 olive trees on the 150 acres known as Texana Olive Ranch, and they are the largest grower, buyer and bottler of Texas olive oil. Their extra virgin and infused olive oils are marketed under the Texana Brands label. 

“We didn’t plant everything at one time,” Michael says. “We planted some in the spring, some in fall, some this year, some that year—we even skipped a year. We’re always going to have something to harvest.”

The ranch’s location is a major advantage, offering cool winters while avoiding extreme weather.

photo by Randy Mallory

Grocery, Online and Restaurant Sales

To harvest a crop each fall, the family uses an adapted grape harvester that shakes the olives off the tree and sends them to a mobile olive mill. The mill presses and pulverizes the whole olive—flesh, skin and pits—into a paste. 

Next, water and oil are removed from the paste. The oil is then transported to the family’s production facility in Kyle, where sediment is removed. Some of the product is infused at this stage, creating flavored oils such as roasted garlic, smokey mesquite and fresh jalapeño.

Texana Brands olive oil is sold online, through Brookshire Grocery Company stores and in numerous restaurants and boutiques. 

Texas Olives Versus Mediterranean

Michael, vice president of the Texas Association of Olive Oil, also promotes and sells the oil at fairs, trade shows and stock shows. 

“It’s our hope that Texana’s crop will show the industry that commercial tonnage can be grown outside of a Mediterranean climate,” Stephen says. “The extra virgin olive oil produced here can hold Texas a spot on the top shelf with the best olive oils.”

Capital Farm Credit, which finances the ranch’s operating expenses, applauds the leadership shown by Texana Olive Ranch—one of about 150 olive growers in the state. 

“We support all types of agricultural enterprises, and we’re excited to see that olives are another viable crop for this area of Texas,” says Debbie Martinez, relationship manager in Capital’s Jourdanton credit office.

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  • FARM CREDIT BANK OF TEXAS, headquartered in Austin, Texas, is a cooperatively owned wholesale bank that is part of the nationwide Farm Credit System. Their mission is to enhance the quality of life in rural America by using cooperative principles to provide competitive credit and superior service to our customers. Find out more at FindFarmCredit.com.

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