LDS Church makes large timberland purchase in Florida Panhandle

Published: Sunday, Nov. 10 2013 6:30 p.m. MST

The ranch is centered between Orlando and Disneyworld on the west and Cape Canaveral to the east. Ranch managers are participating in state studies about future transportation corridors in the area. The Orlando Sentinel reported that Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed an executive order last week that created a task force to plan for roads, development and environmental protection in the region.

A church's principles

Agriculture plays a key role in the LDS Church's management of reserves it holds in case of rough economic times, according to church leaders.

The Tampa Bay Times story on the announced sale referred to the church's principles on preparation and financial responsibility.

"The theme is consistent with a broader teaching (for families) within the Mormon Church," Times reporter Jeff Harrington wrote, "to be prepared for adverse times by building a three-month supply of food; storing drinking water; saving a financial reserve; and, as possible, accumulating a longer-term food supply of items like wheat, white rice and beans that can last 30 years or more."

Church finances operate on two simple principles, Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve said during last month's general conference of the church.

"First, the church lives within its means and does not spend more than it receives," he said. "Second, a portion of the annual income is set aside as a reserve for contingencies and unanticipated needs. For decades the church has taught its membership the principle of setting aside additional food, fuel, and money to take care of emergencies that might arise. The church as an institution simply follows the same principles that are taught repeatedly to the members."

Leaders set aside a fixed percentage of church income to build reserves for what late church President Gordon B. Hinckley called "a possible 'rainy day.’ ”

"Prudent management requires that this money be put to use," he said during a church general conference in 1991. "In that process, we have purchased and hold some good, productive farms. They are well operated under capable management, and they yield a conservative rate of return. We have felt that good farms, over a long period, represent a safe investment where the assets of the church may be preserved and enhanced, while at the same time they are available as an agricultural resource to feed people should there come a time of need."

These commercial properties, like AgReserves Inc., pay property taxes and income tax on any profits.

Focusing on St. Joe

The Times said the per-acre price of Thursday's announced deal — $1,475 per acre — appeared consistent with the sales of large timber tracts. AgReserves Inc. is assuming agreements and contracts existing on the purchased timberlands and intends to maintain the timber and agricultural uses of the lands.

The St. Joe Co. is a Florida-based real estate developer and manager. Company leaders wanted to focus on those core missions.

"This sale of timberland will help the company concentrate on its core business activity of real estate development in Northwest Florida," said Park Brady, CEO for The St. Joe Co. "The proceeds from the sale will provide the company with significant liquidity and numerous opportunities to create long-term value for our shareholders."

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