The LDS Church has become one of Nebraska's largest landowners with the purchase of 88,000 acres in the western part of the statethat it will use to raise cattle.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints paid $17.6 million last month for the land south of Alliance, about 60 miles from the Nebraska-Wyoming border.
Through its investment arm, Farmland Reserve Inc., the church began buying land in Nebraska in the early 1990s and held more than 140,000 acres before its most recent purchase, said Robert Lamoreaux, vice president of livestock for Farmland Management Co., which manages the church's land holdings.
"We're in business for profit, and of course the profits go to the church," Lamoreaux said.
Even with its new total of 228,000 acres in Nebraska, the church has a way to go before outpacing billionaire Ted Turner, who with 290,000 acres is the largest landowner in the state of nearly 50 million acres.
Still, the Mormon church — which is exempt from a state ban on corporate farms and ranches because of its nonprofit status — is now a major player among Nebraska landowners.
Church President Gordon B. Hinckley sees farm land as a safe investment that carries the potential of feeding people in a time of need, Lamoreaux said.
John Hansen, president of the Nebraska Farmers Union, said deep-pocket out-of-state interests put smaller landowners — who need to borrow money to buy land — at a disadvantage.
Smaller ranches are not able to make as much of a profit while paying off debt. That leads to some ranches being consolidated and ultimately the disappearance of rural communities, Hansen said.
Lamoreaux said ranches owned by the church aim to have a high quality product produced under environmentally sensitive conditions.
"Anybody can be big," Lamoreaux said. "We try and be good."