How to start homesteading in Texas
The idea of Texas evokes images of open plains filled with cowboys and their herds alongside endless fields of crops under the sun and clear blue sky. That image of Texas may have been bolstered by old Western movies and country music — in reality, Texas boasts some of the biggest cities in the country, and is the second most populated state — but in some ways, the sprawling Lone Star State lives up to its reputation.
Texas leads the nation’s states in total number of farms and ranches. Moreover, Texas farmers keep the family tradition alive, with nearly 99 percent of Texas farms and ranches being family farms, partnerships or family-held corporations.
If you think the Lone Star State might be right for you, here’s how to start homesteading in Texas.
Buying farmland in Texas
According to 2019 data from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the average cost of farm real estate in Texas was $2,120 per acre, more than $1,000 less than the national average of $3,160 that same year. The average cost per acre for cropland was $1,930 and $1,660 for pasture.
According to the USDA’s 2018 State Agriculture Overview, Texas has 127 million acres of farmland and 247,000 farms. The average farm size is 514 acres.
In general, sole proprietorships and partnerships need to register with the county clerk’s office. If you decide to incorporate, register with the Secretary of State’s Office. The Economic Development and Tourism’s Business Permit Office provides comprehensive information on state permits and licenses required for business enterprises in the state.
The Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) administers the Young Farmer Grant program to provide financial assistance in the form of dollar-for-dollar matching grant funds to young agricultural producers that are engaged or will be engaged in creating or expanding an agricultural business in Texas.
Grant applications will be accepted from any individual person 18 years or older, but younger than 46 years of age as of the application deadline, who is engaged or will be engaged in creating or expanding agriculture in Texas. Applicant must be United States citizens and reside and operate in Texas.
The TDA also administers the Young Farmer Interest Rate Reduction Program, which is intended to facilitate a lower interest rate to agricultural producers or agribusiness owners who are between 18 and 46 years of age through a commercial lender for an eligible project. The Comptroller of Public Accounts for the State of Texas deposits funds in a bank (which must be a state approved depository) at a below market interest rate.
Growing crops in Texas
Texas boasts diverse topography and climate, which allows the state to support numerous crops and products. Plains, coastlines, mountains and basins make up the landscape, and the state is so vast that it contains approximately 1,100 different types of soil.
Cotton is Texas’s most valuable crop, generating 9 percent of the state’s total agricultural receipts and 29 percent of the nation’s cotton revenues. Other major field crops in Texas are corn for grain, hay, wheat, sorghum, peanuts, rice and sugarcane.
The leading fruits produced in Texas are watermelons, grapefruits (which is the official state fruit) and cantaloupes. Important Texas vegetables include onions, potatoes, and cabbage (Texas is the leading producer of cabbage in the nation). Texas is also a leading producer of pecans. Mushrooms are also grown commercially in the state.
The USDA hardiness zones in Texas range from 6b to 10a. The coolest zone, 6b, is located in the northern part of the state. The rest of Texas enjoys a warm climate year round, including the winter months, in zones 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b and 9a. Winter lows in Texas may drop as low as -5 degrees Fahrenheit or as high as 20 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on location.
Texas’s Sunset growing zones — which are more commonly used in the West as they consider factors like elevation and maximum temperatures in the region — include zone 10, the high desert with chilly weather and some rain that stretches along the Western half of the state; zone 28, the humid Gulf Coast with hot summers and plentiful rainfall; zone 29, the interior plains of South Texas, featuring hot summers and moderate rainfall; zone 30, Hill Country of Central Texas, which favors perennial and fruit crops; zone 31, the Interior Plains of Gulf Coast and Coastal Southeast, where sticky summers contrast chilly winters; zone 33 in North-Central Texas, where warm Gulf Coast air and colder continental and Arctic fronts converge unpredictably; and zone 35, the rainy Ouachita Mountains.
Spring and summer crops that grow well in Texas include tomatoes, peppers, squash, zucchini, cucumbers, corn, okra, beans, peas, cantaloupe and watermelon. Late summer begins the second growing season for these plants as well as broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, greens, Irish potatoes and turnips. Winter gardening in Texas is conducive to growing onions, beets, radishes, lettuce and asparagus, as well as a second round for fall vegetables.
Texas soils vary from deep blow sands to fertile, well-drained soils to heavy, dark clays underlain by layers of caliche rock. Crops grown on sandy soils usually respond to liberal amounts of potassium, whereas crops grown on clay soils do not.
The Houston Black series is the official soil of Texas, occurring on about 1.5 million acres in the Blackland Prairie, which extends from north of Dallas south to San Antonio. Because of their highly expansive clays, Houston Black soils are recognized throughout the world as the classic Vertisols, which shrink and swell markedly with changes in moisture content. These soils formed under prairie vegetation and in calcareous clays and marls. Water enters the soils rapidly when they are dry and cracked and very slowly when they are moist. Houston Black soils are used extensively for grain sorghum, cotton, corn, small grain, and forage grasses. They also occur in several metropolitan areas, where their very high shrink-swell potential commonly is a limitation affecting building site development.
The best agricultural soil in Texas, however, is mollisols, which make up a large part of the land in the Texas plains. Mollisols are a deep brown color. This is due to the fresh organic matter being added every year and sticking to the top. The soil is rich in calcium and magnesium, adding to the rich minerals found in the soil.
Many areas of Texas, especially those with hot summers and sand soils, need more frequent watering than other areas in the country. A drip irrigation system is recommended.
Raising animals in Texas
The largest source of agricultural revenue in Texas comes from the sale of beef cattle. Texas produces about 20 percent of the nation’s beef cattle and ranks top among the states in the value of cattle raised. Other important livestock products include broilers chickens and dairy, followed by chicken eggs and hogs. Sheep and lambs and turkeys are also commercially raised in Texas. Texas raises more sheep and produces more mohair from angora goats than any other state.
Texas is an “open range” or a “fence out” state, meaning that a livestock owner does not have a legal duty to prevent animals from getting onto the roadway. However, many stock laws were enacted across Texas during the 1930s which generally state that certain species of animals may not be permitted to run at large within the limits of the particular county.
According to Texas Fence Law, each gardener or farmer shall make a sufficient fence around cleared land in cultivation that is at least five feet high and will prevent hogs from passing through, unless a local government has adopted their own specifications for fences.
The freeholders (essentially, county commissioners) of a county or an area within a county may petition commissioners court to conduct an election for the purpose of determining if cattle are to be permitted to run at large in the county or area. Any such petition must clearly state each class of animal that the petitioners seek to prohibit from running at large; and describe the boundaries of the area in which the election is to be held, if the election is to be less than countywide.
The Texas Animal Health Commission specifically regulates the entry of many livestock, poultry and exotic livestock species (which in Texas include llamas and alpacas) into the state and into interstate shows and exhibitions. Any livestock or poultry that are infected, exposed or quarantined in any manner for an infectious, contagious or communicable disease may not enter the state of Texas.
Most livestock requires a Certificate of Veterinary Inspection to enter Texas, though there are some specifications for different types of livestock. For example, no horse, cow, pig, goat or sheep may enter Texas from a premise or area under quarantine for vesicular stomatitis, while poultry requires Avian Influenza-negative test results within 72 hours of entry. Other health requirements for specific livestock can be found on the Texas Animal Health Commission website.
According to the Texas Agricultural Code, cattle, hogs, sheep, or goats must be identified with brands, tattoos, and/or electronic devices, differing from those of their neighbors. A person who owns a horse may have and use a heat brand, freeze brand, acid brand, hoof brand, earmark, tattoo, electronic device or another generally accepted identification method.
There are a number of livestock auctions that take place regularly throughout the state of Texas. A full list of livestock auctions in Texas can be found on the Texas Department of Agriculture website.
Selling food in Texas
There are 174 farmers’ markets listed on the Texas Farmers Market Directory website
A temporary food establishment permit is not required to sell whole, intact unprocessed fruits and vegetables and pre-packaged, non-potentially hazardous food. A temporary food establishment permit is required to sell all other potentially hazardous food.
A cottage food production operation is defined as an individual, operating out of the individual’s home, who produces non-potentially hazardous foods; has an annual gross income of $50,000 or less from the sale of the described foods; and sells the foods produced directly to consumers at the individual’s home, a farmers’ market, a farm stand, or a municipal, county, or nonprofit fair, festival or event, or another location determined by the consumer.
A cottage food production operation is exempt from the requirements of a food service establishment and does not have to comply with the Texas Food Establishment Rules. Health departments do not have the regulatory authority to conduct inspections of a cottage food production operation. However, local health departments have the authority to act to prevent an immediate and serious threat to human life or health through emergency order, recall orders and delegation of powers or duties. Health departments are required to maintain records of all complaints against a cottage food production operation. Food produced by a cottage food production operation may not be sold via the Internet, by mail order or at wholesale.
An individual who operates a cottage food production operation must successfully complete a basic food safety education or training program for food handlers.
A cottage food production operation may not sell to customers potentially hazardous foods. A potentially hazardous food is a food that requires time and temperature control for safety to limit pathogen growth or toxin production. Non-potentially hazardous foods in Texas include baked goods, candies; coated and uncoated nuts; unroasted nut butters; fruit butters; canned jams or jellies; fruit pies; dehydrated fruit or vegetables, including dried beans; popcorn and popcorn snacks; cereals, including granola; vinegar; pickles; mustard; roasted coffee or dry tea; and dried herbs.
Foods sold by a cottage food production operation must be packaged and labeled. The food must be packaged in a manner that prevents product contamination, except for foods that are too large and or bulky for conventional packaging. The labeling information for foods that are not packaged must be provided to the consumer on an invoice or receipt.
The label must be legible and include the name and address of the cottage food production operation; the common name of the product; a list of major allergens used, such as eggs, nuts, soy, peanuts, milk or wheat; and this statement: “This food is made in a home kitchen and is not inspected by the Department of State Health Services or a local health department.”
Selling farm eggs at a farmers market in Texas requires a temporary food establishment license. Eggs must be maintained at an ambient air temperature of 45 degrees Fahrenheit and below. Eggs must be properly labeled as “ungraded” with safe handling instructions.
A container in which eggs for human consumption are offered for retail or wholesale must be legibly labeled with a statement showing the size and grade of the eggs in the container; the address, including the city and state, and the license number of the person who graded and sized the eggs; the address at which the eggs were sized and graded, or a department-approved code.
Eggs offered for sale that are not in a carton must be in a container that contains all the information required on a label above in legible letters at least one inch high on a sign attached to the container. This does not apply to a retailer’s sale of ungraded eggs if the eggs are clearly labeled as being ungraded and the retailer sells less than 120 dozen eggs a week.
Texas organizations for new farmers
- Farm & Ranch Freedom Alliance
- Texas Young Farmers
- Sustainable Food Center
- Texas Organic Farmers & Gardeners Association
- Central Texas Young Farmers Coalition
- Texas Land Conservation Assistance Network
- Texas Farm Bureau
- Texas Agriculture Council
- Texas A&M AgriLife Extension
How difficult is it to start homesteading in Texas?
Texas is a great place to start a farm or homestead. The Lone Star State has cheap, plentiful land and is a hotbed for the nation’s crop and animal agriculture.