The Land Report

Spring 2016

The Magazine of the American Landowner is an essential guide for investors, landowners, and those interested in buying or selling land. The award-winning quarterly is known for its annual survey of America's largest landowners, The Land Report 100.

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Page 94 of 107

S P R I N G 2 0 1 6 | The LandReport 93 LANDREPORT.COM Tommy's business card clearly states his position: Energy Manager. Yet for the last 30 minutes, the man has been all about touchy- feely, tree-hugging notions such as increased biodiversity, habitat enhancement, and land rehabilitation. When he drops the term "approximate original contour," I push the Pause button. I've never heard the phrase. He quickly explains. The New Mexico native signed on with Alcoa in 1978 and was posted to Sandow Lakes Ranch in 1983. Back then, Alcoa's primary focus was mining the lignite coal that powered the smelters. But the Alcoa team was also charged with creating a new terrain, one that had the "approximate original contour" of the ranch itself. On the advice of soil specialists, Alcoa took the hard-packed clay that formed the traditional topsoil and replaced it with loamy dirt unearthed by mining operations. The result? Simply stunning. The new topsoil exceeded Mother Nature's best-laid plans. Whereas the original clayey soil was slow to drain and inhospitable to all but the hardi- est plant life, the rehabilitated terrain is fertile ground for productive agriculture. "Last year, we produced 15,000 round bales without a drop of irrigation water," Tommy says. When I ask him the ranch's true capacity, he shrugs off the question. "Three times that amount? Four times that amount? 50,000, 60,000 bales? I don't know. We grow enough to pay the property taxes. That's it. And if Alcoa grew much more, it would kill the market for round bales in who knows how many counties nearby. I won't let that happen," he adds. That's not the story I anticipated when I first learned of Sandow Ranch Lakes. What I expected was a slick presentation from a Fortune 500 press agent. What I got was a good neighbor to a lot of folks in Milam, Lee, and Bastrop Counties whose steward- ship has been recognized by the Department of the Interior as "The Best of Best."

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