Monday, December 22, 2008

TDA Honors 2008 Service Award Recipients

December is a time when the Texas Department of Agriculture holds its annual service awards congratulating all of our dedicated team members who are committed to providing exceptional service to Texans all year long.

We particularly recognize individuals who have reached a milestone by having served TDA from 5 to 35 years. For a list of the employees honored this year,
click here.

Friday, December 19, 2008

TDA and community development

I recently spoke with city leaders and entrepreneurs from several north Texas cities at the Best Southwest Partnership quarterly luncheon in Duncanville. It was exciting to see the local officials’ enthusiasm and dedication to building opportunities for their communities and the Lone Star State. I visited with them about the Texas Department of Agriculture’s expanded role to serve all Texans and the need for communities to foster economic development.



In case you missed it, Lancaster Today highlighted my message to the group:

Ag commissioner shares thoughts on Texas community with BSW



By DANIELLE PARKER
Wednesday, December 17

Living in a metropolitan area, agriculture may not be a prime concern to the residents of Southwest Dallas County. But at the Best Southwest Partnership quarterly luncheon, Texas Commissioner of Agriculture Todd Staples communicated the importance of Texas agriculture and community development.

“If you are eating today or wearing clothes, you are involved in agriculture,” Staples said. “In 2007, for the first time ever, agriculture contributed more than $100 billion to Texas economy and 9.5 percent of the state's total gross product. People really don't think about agriculture until there is a problem.”

Contrary to popular belief, Staples said the Texas Department of Agriculture centers upon much more than agriculture.

“We focus on a variety of issues and concerns, working for the advancement and opportunity for all of us in Texas,” Staples said. “We act as the state's weights and measures to protect consumers and businesses.”

One of TDA's primary concentrations is child obesity and education, an area in which Texas has become a leader in recent years, according to Staples.

“Texas ranks sixth in the nation in child obesity,” Staples said. “Our priority is to turn the trend around. We are encouraging food service directors and administrators to helps us implement programs to teach the importance of healthy living.


TDA is partnering with schools and businesses to preserve Texas' quality education, which Staples said is not only vital to students, but the businesses as well.

“We must make certain we invest in our children. We have to communicate the importance of these programs for not only their health and well-being, but also the health for our economy. As a business community, you are the end users of our graduates.”

Education and a sense of community is what Staples said sets Texas apart. Understanding the unique qualities of Texas, TDA has initiated the GO Texan campaign, which promotes the products, cultures and communities of the state.

“We recently discovered that 96 percent of Texans prefer Texas products,” Staples said. “People around the globe are excited about Texas. We, as Texans, have an image that we can capitalize on.”

With the nation's economy in its current shape, Staples highlighted that Texas is better off than most financially.

“Unlike many states, such as Michigan and California, who are calling on the federal government to bail them out, Texans have planned ahead financially with low taxes and a high quality of life. We are a welcome mat for opportunity.”

Staples believes that Texas has all of the traits to become a retirement destination for seniors around the nation.

“Texas is the second most popular state for retirement, but we want to be No. 1,” Staples said Retirees contribute about $2.3 trillion in annual spending. I don't know about you, but I want that money coming into Texas' economy. Retirees are an industry.'

In March 2007, Duncanville became the fourth Go Texan Certified Retirement Community and Staples encouraged Cedar Hill, DeSoto and Lancaster communities to join their neighbor.

“It would be easy to say, ‘Well Duncanville already is a CRC. Do we really need another in this area?' As businesspeople, you are well aware of how a cluster economy can build off of one another. The best way to attract people to your area is to have several cities that have multiple things to offer them. As a community that is working together, you can cast a much bigger net.”

Staples applauded the work the BSW partnership was doing in its collective effort to create a community of which its residents and businessowners can be proud.

“We must maintain a spirit of cooperation that enables us to realize we are competitors, but also understand that if my neighbor does well that benefits me, too.”

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Governor Perry appoints the Commission for Disaster Recovery and Renewal

I appreciate Governor Perry appointing the Commission for Disaster Recovery and Renewal and look forward to continuing to assist the Texas agriculture community, as well as other victims, of hurricanes and natural disasters. Texans have proven time and again they can face adversity and overcome. I am confident this committee will develop a plan that will ensure timely and appropriate assistance for Texans who have suffered through major disasters.

Having previously served as chair of the Senate Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security, I can assure all Texans our system of response and recovery is fast acting and designed to be receptive to the needs of its citizens.

Funds available for Texas farmers and ranchers recovering from Hurricane Ike

There is some good news for farmers and ranchers who suffered losses and damages from Hurricane Ike in September. Thanks to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency Emergency Conservation Program (ECP) and our state’s senators and representatives in Congress, $13.7 million in funds are available to Texas farmers and ranchers in 20 designated counties.

 

Texas farmers and ranchers can apply for the funding to pay for things like debris removal and fence restoration. But there are some limited conditions in order for land to be eligible. Hurricane Ike must have created new conservation problems that, if untreated, would:

  • Impair or endanger the land
  • Materially affect the land's productive capacity
  • Represent unusual damage which, except for wind erosion, is not the type likely to recur frequently in the same area
  • Be so costly to repair that federal assistance is or will be required to return the land to productive agricultural use

 

To see if you are eligible and to apply, visit www.usda.gov for more information on the program. The ECP application period is for 60 days. Sign-up dates for counties impacted by Hurricane Ike are as follows:

 

Dec. 1, 2008 – Jan. 29, 2009                                              Jan. 5 – Mar. 5, 2009

Angelina County                                                                 Brazoria County

Cherokee County                                                                Chambers County

Houston County                                                                  Galveston County

Jasper County                                                                       Hardin County

Nacogdoches County                                                          Harris County

Newton County                                                                    Jefferson County

Polk County                                                                          Liberty County

Rusk County                                                                         Montgomery County

San Jacinto County                                                               Orange County

Trinity County                                                                          

Tyler County                                               

Monday, December 15, 2008

TERP Hopes to Encourage Farmers and Ranchers to "Go Green"

Right now, air quality in Texas is a serious issue, and one affecting all Texans. That’s why I’m happy to announce TDA is partnering with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to reduce harmful emissions released into the air by older trucks, tractors and other farming equipment.

The Texas Emissions Reduction Plan, or TERP, offers agricultural producers grants that will fund up to 80 percent of replacing old vehicles or up to 100 percent of replacing an emissions-producing engine. TERP aims to improve air quality in urban and near-urban areas by removing as many sources of pollution as possible.

For more information on deadlines and eligibility, visit www.tdagrants.org, or call 1-800-919-TERP.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Documentary Highlights Texan Teamwork After Hurricane Ike

On Monday, I met with Texas AgriLife Extension Service to be part of a documentary on the tremendous response to Hurricane Ike. AgriLife Extension was one of many great partners who collaborated to meet the diverse needs of Texas farmers and ranchers after the devastation.

Hurricane Ike resulted in what was most likely the largest cattle drive in Texas and North America. Approximately 15,000 head of cattle were displaced by the storm, and it was critical to move fast to make sure the surviving livestock received food, water and nutrients. Without hesitation, a partnership of Texans was formed.

Because of the outstanding efforts of several state and federal agencies, as well as close coordination with industry partners such as the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, Independent Cattlemen’s Association and others, Southeast Texas will be able to recover from the devastating impact.

The video is expected to be available in January 2009 and we will post it on the Texas Department of Agriculture’s Web site at www.tda.state.tx.us.

If you or someone you know still needs assistance from Hurricane Ike, visit TDA’s Web site and click on our Hurricane Ike Recovery Resource Fact Sheet.

A Collaborative Effort to Fight Childhood Obesity

In Aggieland on Monday, I met with some of the leaders in the fight against childhood obesity. We brainstormed on ways to tackle the growing obesity problem in the Lone Star State.

Bill Ludwig, U.S. Department of Agriculture Southwest Region Administrator for Food Nutrition Services, coordinated the round-table discussion that included representatives from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas, Texas AgriLife Extension Family and Consumer Sciences, the Agatston Research Foundation and The OrganWise Guys health education program . We shared ideas on how to decrease obesity rates among our younger generations, and I am excited to say there are already some great efforts underway to help combat this terrible epidemic.

As you may already know, Texas ranks sixth in the nation in childhood obesity, and in 2005 Texas businesses spent an estimated $3.3 billion on costs related to obesity. This is a trend we must change.

Although Texas schools are already doing an outstanding job of fighting obesity, the realty is we are losing our children after school, during the weekends and in the summers. Through a collaborative effort we can all help Texas children by encouraging them to adopt the 3Es of Healthy Living: Education, Exercise and Eating right. These components are critical to winning the war on obesity.

The upcoming legislative session will give us many opportunities to make gains in our fight against obesity. To find out more about TDA’s request to the state legislature to implement healthy lifestyles for Texas children, visit www.tda.state.tx.us and look for the link on the right called Legislative Appropriations Request.

TDA appreciates all our partners and their investment in healthy lifestyles, and I hope we can work together to improve Texans’ health and end this obesity crisis.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Deadline Extended for USDA's SURE Program for 2009

I am pleased to announce to our Texas producers that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has just made some important adjustments to their implementation of disaster program provisions of the 2008 Farm Bill. The changes allow eligible producers with certain crops such as citrus to buy into the Supplemental Revenue Assistance (SURE) Program for the 2009 year.
The SURE Program will provide benefits to producers whose crops are damaged by natural disasters. To be eligible, producers had to have previously purchased crop insurance or will need to utilize this one-time buy-in provision.
I contacted USDA after hearing concerns from Texas farmers who were unable to participate in SURE as the sign-up period for the required crop insurance had already passed. I urged USDA to extend the deadline so these farmers could become eligible for the program.
Eligible Texas producers now have until Jan. 12, 2009 to visit their local Farm Service Agency and buy into the SURE Program with respect to certain 2009 crops. Eligibility for this buy-in opportunity is based on whether the crop insurance closing date for their 2009 crop was before the passage of the 2008 Farm Bill.
I urge all Texas producers to find out if they are eligible to receive assistance through SURE. The program will no doubt offer assurance to our local producers and economy in times of potential disaster.
Click HERE for more information on the program

Thursday, November 27, 2008

History Serves as Guide on Thanksgiving Day

As our state and nation pause to celebrate a day of thanks, we all remember the story we’ve been told of the first Thanksgiving. However, it was George Washington who made the first Thanksgiving proclamation in 1789, setting the stage for this annual holiday. Looking back to what our founding fathers were thankful for helps put all of our blessings into perspective.

George Washington's 1789 Thanksgiving Proclamation
Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me to "recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:"
Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enable to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.
And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.
Given under my hand, at the city of New York, the 3d day of October, A.D. 1789.
                                                                                          G. Washington

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

South Korean Retailers Resume Beef Exports from the U.S.

Finally, some good news for international beef exports.

As most of you know, the economic crisis has impacted the beef industry along with most agriculture commodities.

But later this week, South Korea's big retailers will resume U.S. beef sales. While this certainly will help the beef industry, it will have positive impacts on other agriculture commodities as well. Read more about the decision in the following news story:


South Korea's big retailers to resume US beef sales

SEOUL - Major South Korean retailers said Tuesday they would resume U.S. beef sales for the first time since mass protests against the imports rocked the country, citing the need for cheap food during hard times.

The Korea Chainstores Association said US beef would be back on shelves from Thursday at the top three discount stores -- Lotte Mart, E-Mart and Homeplus, which is owned by Britain's Tesco.

Click here to read full article

Monday, November 24, 2008

Texas Makes Progess on Helping to Feed the Hungry

Texas ranks third in America for food insecurity. This is definitely not a statistic to brag about, but the good news is private industry and the state are taking serious strides to try to end hunger in the Lone Star State.

Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. recently announced it will give Feeding America food banks an estimated 90 million pounds of food annually – the equivalent of 70 million meals. This means 19 food banks across Texas will receive thousands of pounds of food in 2009.

Additionally, food banks continue to receive $1 million annually through the Texas Department of Agriculture’s Texans Feeding Texans Grant Program. This same program will also provide much-needed assistance to Texas home-delivered meal providers who will receive $10 million in 2009 to pay for thousands of additional meals for homebound disabled and elderly Texans.

Ending hunger in Texas is something I’m committed to, and there’s no question these partnerships will benefit not only those in need, but ALL Texans. You, too, can help feed hungry Texans. Contribute to your favorite charity today or go on-line and find out how to give to the Texas Food Bank Network or to your local Meals on Wheels or home-delivered meal provider.

Texas Teachers Learn From One Another About the Future of Our Economy

In the middle of an economic crisis like most of us have never experienced, it should encourage you to know a group of educators and business leaders are thinking about a big topic for Texas: Going global. Recently I had the chance to visit with a gathering of Texas teachers who were focusing on broadening horizons for Texas students.

“Globalization in America” was the title of the conference presented by the Texas Council on Economic Education (TCEE). The conference gathered educators from across the Lone Star State and offered sessions on international opportunities for teachers, globalization, international markets for Texas products and Texas as the site for international companies.

Texas depends greatly on exports to a global market to keep our economy going. In the agriculture sector alone, Texas ranked fifth in the U.S. with an estimated $4.6 billion in sales to foreign markets in 2007. Overall, Texas exports of merchandise in 2007 totaled $168.2 billion, which was the largest figure among all 50 states.

With the world we live in becoming more interdependent every day, I am grateful to these dedicated teachers and TCEE for teaming up to go global.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Water for Texas Helps Growing Population

Water for Texas. That is what’s on the minds of many state leaders and planners these days.

Our state's population is expected to reach 45 million by 2060, almost doubling our current population and creating a major demand for water. According to the Texas Water Development Board, conservation efforts are critical to meet almost ¼ of our state’s water needs by 2060. To put it in perspective, that’s enough water to fill the Astrodome more than 800 times per year!


Fortunately, Texas has many partners who are not waiting for conservation efforts to just happen – they are leading the way. I was part of a press conference today at the Lower Colorado River Authority where Wal-Mart announced they are donating $250,000 to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation to help fund a new watershed restoration initiative called Water for Texas. The program will help provide additional water for Texans.


Whether you’re planning your personal budget or one for business, plan on conserving water as a part of your daily routine. Water conservation should save you money in the long run and help ensure our state continues to have an abundant water supply in the future. To find out more about conserving water, visit http://www.wateriq.org/ or http://www.epa.gov/ and search for “how to conserve water.”

Monday, November 17, 2008

Celebrate the Lone Star State

It’s never dull in Texas, and that was particularly true this weekend as I had the opportunity to travel and view some of the best offerings of the Lone Star State.

Texas Citrus Mutual (TCM) observed its 50th Anniversary this weekend at the Shary Mansion in Mission, Texas. Shary Mansion is owned by UT-Pan American University and was the perfect setting to celebrate the contributions of TCM and the tremendous advancements in the citrus industry, which contributes $150 million annually to the Texas economy.


Not that Texans like to brag, but nationwide Texas ranks second in grapefruit and third in orange production. You should contact Ray Prewett and our friends at TCM at (956) 584-1772 to find out how to obtain a very attractive coffee table pictorial history book that was published to commemorate this truly special occasion.

While traveling back to Austin from Mission, I stopped to see Stanley and Holly Schilling at the Schilling Ranch near George West. The Schillings represent what is good about Texas agriculture. Their operations cover a broad spectrum of agriculture, including corn and grain production along with experimental crops such as sesame, canola and luceana. Forages, commercial cattle and an embryo transfer business also are on site.

The Schillings understand the need to diversify for profitability and survival as our agriculture industry changes. They’ve even included recreation and nature tourism into the mix. At Schilling Ranch, you will find a well-managed wildlife setting where deer, turkey, quail and javelina roam. Of course, you also can find wild hogs.

If you haven’t experienced the diversity of Texas agriculture lately, the fall hunting season is the perfect time to explore and enjoy.

Friday, November 14, 2008

National Cotton Council and Texas Cotton Industry

More than 25 countries and several states were on hand for the National Cotton Council’s Sourcing USA summit held this week at the beautiful Hyatt Lost Pines resort in Bastrop.

I was honored to greet our out-of-state and international guests and welcome them to Texas on behalf of our 24 million citizens.

It was easy to say great things about our dynamic cotton industry. Texas cotton producers generate more than a third of the nation’s cotton and provide seven percent of the world’s cotton supply. This enormous contribution results in billions of dollars to the Texas economy and thousands of jobs across the Lone Star State. In fact, our cotton producers grew enough cotton last year to make 1.7 billion pairs of blue jeans. Pretty cool, huh?

Employees Enjoy the Texas Tradition of Tailgating

Football and tailgating are time-honored Texas traditions, and the Texas Department of Agriculture recently did its part to uphold the spirit of the gridiron with the fellowship of the grill.


Tailgating outside the Stephen F. Austin Building under a beautiful Texas sky, TDA employees enjoyed flavorful sausage wraps and smoky baked beans cooked by our own master pit tenders, Doyle Fuchs, Jeremy Fuchs, Randy Rivera and Robin Roark.


As much as it is my great pleasure to work side-by-side with these talented people as we tend to the business of TDA, it likewise was great fun to serve a down-home employee appreciation luncheon for the TDA team that works tirelessly throughout the year to provide excellent consumer service.

Tailgating and teamwork are two winning Texas traditions, and I am proud to uphold them both.

Cooper Clinic Dedicated to Combating Obesity in Texas

Taxpayers are picking up the tab for poor eating choices by incurring expenses to fight illness, obesity and rising healthcare costs.

At the Texas Department of Agriculture, we are using every possible resource to promote the 3Es of Healthy Living – education, exercise and eating right. In our schools, we are working with cafeteria staff to take on the enormous task of providing healthy, nutritious meals to millions of schoolchildren every day. Our team is also working hard to educate our kids about the importance of exercising and making smart eating choices.


Earlier this week, I had the privilege of spending an hour with the world famous Dr. Kenneth Cooper when he invited me to tour the
Cooper Clinic in Dallas. Dr. Cooper is known as the “Father of Aerobics,” and his work has influenced companies and citizens from across the globe.

Dr. Cooper shared with me invaluable information that I intend to use to wage war on obesity in Texas. I am most grateful to Dr. Cooper and Dr. Charles Sterling for their insight, time and ongoing dedication to Texans, especially our schoolchildren. Through partnerships like these, we can combat illness and obesity while bettering the lives of future generations.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Vote Tomorrow on Election Day!

Tuesday is Election Day! Hopefully, you've already voted. If not, please don't let this opportunity pass you by.

Your voice does count. Elected leaders do listen when you show your preference at the polls. Study up on the issues. Look at the history of the candidates. Find out what they've done and what the long-term consequences of their policies will be.


Regardless of your affiliation, label, political persuasion or background, your vote counts just as much as the most influential person in America, because that is exactly who you are. Don't miss this important opportunity to be heard!

Voting is not only a right, it's a duty. So be sure to vote!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

You Can!

It was good to see my friends at the University of Texas at Tyler (UTT) this week. They held a luncheon for the Heritage Society, a group who have pledged financial support to the university through their wills, insurance policies or other avenues.

UTT, with campuses in Tyler, Longview and Palestine, is doing an excellent job reaching out to students with a positive message of "You Can!" Too many times society, personal influences or circumstances send a "You Can't" message to our children. But because of their generous donations and forward thinking, this group of Texans is proclaiming boldly and clearly to this and future generations, "You Can!"

Now, that is the Texas way!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

American Spirit Strong in the Face of Economic Woes

I heard someone the other day say their 401(k) looked more like a 201(k). That would be much funnier if it weren’t so true. Whether it’s a major reduction in your retirement savings, higher food prices, a job loss or the foreclosure on your home, in some way or another we are all feeling the economic turmoil battering our nation.

When you feel the economic pinch, it's critical to set priorities. We at the Texas Department of Agriculture are constantly exploring ways to save taxpayer dollars. For example, we have developed a plan to reduce our travel expenses by 20 percent. And I’ve instructed staff to look at other means by which to trim our spending.

You might have heard former Federal Reserve Governor Frederic Mishkin say recently that the shock ripping through our nation's economy is actually worse than what was felt during the Great Depression. While that may be true, we are Americans and adversity only makes us stronger. I know we will weather this economic storm, not through government handouts, but by the individual will of self-determination.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Testimony before Senate Committees on Hurricane Ike

Today, I testified before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Transportation on Texas' response to Hurricane Ike. I appreciated the Senators giving me the opportunity to talk about this important issue.

I began my testimony by recognizing the great accomplishments and teamwork of government, industry and citizens during the storm. Losing one life is one too many; however, and if it was not for the incredible efforts by Texans, the loss of human life could have been substantially higher. Great work and preparation saved lives.

The state's emergency response system was managed professionally and comprehensively. For the most part, the State Operation Center's response was reliable and quick. Pre-positioning of fuel, food, personnel and resources was critical and from my vantage point the agriculture community came forth with a cohesive response, donating significant amounts of time and resources to help fellow Texans in need.

With all this said, we must prepare for future disasters and learn from our mistakes. TDA, the Texas Animal Health Commission, AgriLife Extension, and the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association have convened an initial post review meeting and have scheduled follow-up meetings to address some issues initiated an after-action review process and will improve upon the response based upon our lessons-learned.

The agriculture industry's response needs stronger coordination among agriculture-related agencies. Pre-planned collaboration is lacking for agriculture needs beyond animal health. Key entities need to be assigned responsibilities and trained; plus it is crucial to reduce confusion regarding the process for accessing FEMA assistance. The state needs to consider forming an Animal Incident Management Team to address these issues.

Texans should be proud of the response after this deadly storm hit, but as a state we must continue to work hard so we are even more prepared for future hurricanes and other disasters.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Time to Pick Fresh Texas Pumpkins

With Halloween and Thanksgiving just around the corner, many of you have pumpkins on your mind. Whether used to carve a jack-o-lantern or baked into a delicious pie, autumn is the season for pumpkins.

This morning, Texas Department of Agriculture Deputy Assistant Commissioner for Communications, Veronica Obregon, appeared live on KEYE Morning News from the pumpkin patch at Evergreen Farms in Elgin.

During the interview, Veronica talked about how the price of pumpkins is up this year, compared to last year. Ninety percent of Texas pumpkins are grown in the Panhandle. The Panhandle area experienced heavy rains late in the growing season, which led to a lower than usual pumpkin supply.

To learn more about Texas pumpkins, watch the news clip here:



You can also find out more details and factoids about Texas-grown pumpkins in my Think Texas column here.

So get down to your local farms to get the best pick of the patch. Providing Halloween decorations and great tasting desserts are just a few ways agriculture affects all Texans in their daily lives.

Monday, October 20, 2008

National School Lunch Week a Success

Today I’d like to thank everyone who helped make National School Lunch Week a success.

Me with Eden ISD's hard-working cafeteria employees

While visiting Gonzales ISD, Eden ISD and Bellville ISD last week, I met with students and staff who are making smart nutrition choices. It was an honor to recognize O’Bryant Intermediate School in Bellville as a US Healthier School Challenge Gold Award winner. Their school’s hard work and commitment to healthy school meals paid off, making O’Bryant Intermediate only the third school in Texas to win the gold distinction.

Eating lunch with the great kids at Gonzales Elementary School

At each school, I encountered wonderful and dedicated cafeteria staff and teachers who take care of our school kids every day. It was great to hear how appreciative they are of the efforts of TDA employees, especially in the Food and Nutrition Division. Together, they have all contributed to the success of the National School Lunch program. TDA is dedicated to making sure our customers, Texas children, are happy and healthy.

Students at O'Bryant Intermediate School in Bellville load up on school-served vegetables. No wonder they won the gold!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Texas Agriculture Today launches online



It is my pleasure to announce this week’s unveiling of our new electronic version of Texas Agriculture Today.

The Texas Agriculture Today Web site will serve as an online version of the Texas Department of Agriculture’s printed quarterly newsletter. In each issue, you’ll find a variety of news stories on agricultural topics that affect everyday life.

TDA is committed to connecting with as many Texans as possible through a variety of mediums.

To have Texas Agriculture Today sent directly to your inbox, click here to subscribe. We will continue to circulate the regularly published version of the issue for those who still prefer the original hard copy.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Don't Miss the Last Week of the Texas State Fair

This week is your last chance to enjoy the Texas Department of Agriculture's Food and Fiber Pavilion at the State Fair of Texas. The 2008 State Fair will draw to a close on Oct. 19, but there’s still time to experience fun cooking demonstrations, high-energy exhibits and exciting special events.

The third week of events and activities promises an exciting finish to this year's Pavilion, presented by Borden. Try a sample of Texas beef, taste award-winning Texas wine and learn how the diversity of agriculture touches our everyday lives.

Click here for a detailed schedule of the final week’s events.

Click here for a virtual tour of the TDA Food and Fiber Pavilion.

The clock is ticking to enjoy this Texas family tradition, so don’t miss out!

Monday, October 13, 2008

National School Lunch Week Off to a Good Start



This week, I am joining students across the state celebrating National School Lunch Week, Oct. 13-17. As part of my ongoing commitment to help curb childhood obesity, I encourage students to enjoy nutritious school meals and adopt the 3 Es of Healthy Living – education, exercise and eating right.



Today, I joined the fourth graders at Gonzales Elementary School for lunch. It was great to see so many students eating healthy and nutritious school lunches.

Acknowledging the benefits of a nutritional diet and exercise early in life will help foster better eating decisions, and in turn, help sustain a lifestyle with a reduced risk of health problems that are most often associated with obesity. Click HERE to watch TDA's latest public service announcement reminding people that good grades start with good nutrition.

Child obesity is a growing epidemic in our state, but it’s not too late to begin implementing changes in our children’s lives to halt this disturbing trend. Encouraging your children to eat lunch at school is a great way to encourage healthy eating, as those meals are prepared with less fat in order to meet federal nutrition requirements.





Click HERE to read facts and figures about the childhood obesity crisis in Texas.


Larry Wedhe, Assistant Superintendent, Gonzales ISD, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Staples, Gwen Hodges, Principal of Gonzales Elementary and Haley Ratliff, Food Service Director, Gonzales ISD

Friday, October 10, 2008

Tree Giveaway at the State Fair of Texas

This year’s State Fair of Texas offers plenty of southern fun and a great opportunity to add some greenery to your own piece of Texas soil.

On Monday, Oct. 13, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., the Texas Department of Agriculture will host the Texas Forestry Association’s seedling giveaway. Planting trees is an easy way to make family memories and add to your home’s landscape, and this year TDA makes it easier than ever. Just find your way to our Food and Fiber Pavilion, and pick up a containerized Shumard Oak seedling to add to your landscape.

Once the tree is planted, you and your family can look forward to many years of autumn leaves in shades of purple and red. Shumard leaves turn their brightest red in December, making the perfect backdrop for Christmas decorating. The tree will grow along with your family, and can reach as high as 120 feet tall.

For more information, visit www.gotexan.org or visit the Food and Fiber Pavilion’s blog here.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Panhandle Communities Receive Economic Development Awards

During these challenging economic times, it was great to meet with hardworking Texans in the Panhandle who aren’t looking at Wall Street as much as they are focusing on Main Street. Earlier this week I got together with these folks at an Economic Development Summit Conference in Canyon.



During the summit we added a pair of cities to the GO TEXAN Certified Retirement Communities (CRC) program. With this week’s addition of Canyon and Tulia, Texas now has 21 CRCs. Launched in June 2006, the Texas Department of Agriculture’s CRC initiative helps Texas communities attract retirees and potential retirees to reside in their respective locales. The CRC Program also encourages tourism.


As Texans, we know it is important to maintain the economic health of our rural communities, so I was honored to present Texas Capital Fund awards to the cities of Crosbyton, Dimmitt, Floydada, Levelland, and Plains. The grants will be used toward revitalizing the historic downtowns, which serve as the heart of every community in the Lone Star State.


It was inspiring to see a room full of Texans at the conference dedicated to preserving and advancing their Panhandle communities. By taking steps to enhance the historical charm and Texas pride in each city, I know tourism and national recognition are bound to follow. Great work, Texas!

See more photos from the event here:

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Keeping Agriculture Alive in Texas Schools

I am happy to announce that six schools have been awarded more than $14,000 under the Texas Department of Agriculture’s Urban School Grant Program.

Agriculture is a vital part of the Texas economy, and we must ensure its future by keeping each generation interested in the industry. These grants will allow urban students to learn of the importance of agriculture in every day life and how the industry has become a high-tech business in need of young professionals.

The program provides up to $2,500 each for the elementary and middle schools’ agricultural demonstration projects in urban school districts. Funding for these grants is sponsored in part by Borden Milk Products and Kitchen Craft International.

The schools receiving the grants are:

* Bryant Elementary School, Arlington Independent School District, Arlington ($1,974)
* Spillane Middle School, Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District, Houston ($2,500)
* Aue Elementary School, Northside Independent School District, San Antonio ($2,200)
* De Zavala Middle School, Pasadena Independent School District, Pasadena ($2,500)
* Genoa Elementary School, Pasadena Independent School District, Houston ($2,500)
* J.D. Sparks Elementary, Pasadena Independent School District, Pasadena ($2,500)

To learn more about each school’s agricultural project, click HERE. To see how one school in East Austin benefitted from an Urban School Grant last year, click HERE.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

GO TEXAN Restaurant Round-Up A Success

I hope everyone enjoyed Wednesday’s GO TEXAN Restaurant Round-Up as much as I did. Throughout the day, I sampled delicious foods grown right here in Texas, and I couldn’t be more proud of our great state. More than 200 statewide GO TEXAN restaurants helped us celebrate homegrown ingredients and Texas food while benefiting area food banks. The success of the event means we will carry on the tradition next year.

I would like to extend my thanks to Farm Credit, who helped make the GO TEXAN Restaurant Round-Up possible.

For a glimpse at the event’s inaugural success, you can view news coverage from around the state at the links below:
Abeline Biz, Abeline
KTBC Fox 7 Austin
KVUE ABC Austin

Now that the GO TEXAN Restaurant Round-Up is over, it’s time to enjoy Texas Wine Month through the rest of October. Expect to see statewide wine promotions, including sales incentives, winery tours, wine festivals, in-store tastings, restaurant pairings and other activities in communities across the Lone Star State. Visit www.gotexanwine.org for more information.

TDA's Food and Fiber Pavilion Goes High Tech

The Food and Fiber Pavilion has gone high tech this year, and has its own blog. You can keep up with all the exciting happenings at The State Fair of Texas through Oct. 19.


Week two at this year’s TDA Food and Fiber Pavilion at the State Fair in Dallas promises a variety of exhibits, hundreds of quality Texas products, cooking demonstrations and other events.


Click HERE for a full calendar of events at the pavilion. The second week is exciting and promises a look at the wide variety of Texas products, fun demonstrations and educational exhibits.
To see highlights for week two (Oct. 7-13) at the pavilion, click here.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

GO TEXAN Restaurant Round-Up: A Dining Odessey

The GO TEXAN Restaurant Round-Up is finally here, and boy am I excited to spend the day touring Texas to sample the best foods our great state has to offer. I urge everyone to participate in today's first-ever Restaurant Round-Up as well. All you have to do is go out to eat at a participating GO TEXAN restaurant that serves fresh, Texas-grown foods. Some restaurants are donating proceeds from today to area food banks. Not only do you get to taste fresh food from right here in the Lone Star State, but you get to help other Texans in need.


Find out which restaurants in your area are participating here.

I started out my day with breakfast in San Antonio at Mi Tierra in Market Square. Mi Tierra is showcasing Texas beef in today's GO TEXAN special: Milanesa de Res.


I don't know how much room I'll have left for lunch and dinner, but I will do my duty as your Commissioner of Agriculture and try my best.

State Senator Jeff Wentworth along with representatives from the San Antonio Food Bank and Texas fruits and vegetables producers joined for me for breakfast.


Now it's time for me to head to lunch in Dallas. Be sure to check back, as I will be updating my blog with photos and more of my GO TEXAN Restaurant Round-Up tour of Texas.

UPDATE
We stopped in Dallas to have lunch at Fearings at the Ritz Carlton in Dallas. Chef Dean Fearing served up a delicious meal:



Cathy Barber with the Dallas Morning News, Chef Dean Fearing and Susan Auler with Fall Creek Vineyards chatted with me after lunch.

Below is a slideshow of photos from yesterday's press conference at the Capital Area Food Bank, and from this morning's delicious meal at Mi Tierra.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

GO TEXAN Restaurant Round-Up- Tomorrow!

In an effort to help local food banks serve a growing number of Texas families, I ask all Texans to dine out on Wednesday, Oct. 1 as part of the GO TEXAN Restaurant Round-Up, presented by Farm Credit.

The inaugural event celebrates restaurants that serve fresh, local ingredients and quality Texas foods. I’m also proud to announce that many of the day’s proceeds will benefit Texas food banks in support of the Texas Department of Agriculture’s Texans Feeding Texans initiative. I will enjoy breakfast, lunch, and dinner tomorrow at GO TEXAN Restaurants and hope other Texans will join me in doing the same.

I announced the GO TEXAN Restaurant Round-Up at a news conference today. You can watch the announcement, plus get a tour of the Capital Area Food Bank here:





For a complete list of participating statewide restaurants, news updates and other information about the event, visit www.GOTEXANRestaurantRoundUp.com.

In addition, the GO TEXAN Restaurant Round-Up serves to kick off Texas Wine Month in October.

Remember – Go Out, Go Eat, GO TEXAN.

Monday, September 29, 2008

State Fair of Texas Highlights

If you are looking for high-energy exhibits, hundreds of quality Texas products, cooking demonstrations and other exciting special events, then I recommend visiting TDA's Food and Fiber Pavilion at the Texas State Fair, presented by Borden.

The State Fair of Texas is going on until Oct. 19. Click HERE for a full calendar of events at the pavilion.
Fairgoers love to experience the world of Texas agriculture firsthand. This opening week offers terrific opportunities to do just that.

Here is a look of the highlights for the first week of the fair at the pavillion:
  • You'll love these animal ambassadors! Straight from the Wild Wonders Outreach Program at the Fort Worth Zoo, birds of prey, small mammals, reptiles and other outdoor friends will visit the Pavilion. Visitors will mix, mingle, meet and greet the animals. There's educational fun for all ages. Noon-2 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 1.

  • In the mood for a great meal? Southwest Dairy Farmers and the Texas Beef Council will partner together and entertain fairgoers with exciting beef and dairy cooking demos. Noon-2 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 30 and Thursday, Oct 2.

  • Tap your feet, harmonize and join in as the Cabaret Sweet Adeline Quartet regales the crowd with cabaret tunes. The group consists of Patty, Pam, Donna and Holly - four women from four different states - singing for your enjoyment. Noon-2 p.m. and 4-6 p.m. Friday, Oct. 3.

  • Enjoy the culinary show of Molly Fowler, the Dining Diva, as she displays her GO TEXAN cooking skill with live demos. A traveling culinary instructor, television personality and cookbook author, Fowler shares her secrets with ease and flair. Noon-2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 4; 4-6 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 5.

  • Stop by and say hello to fairground favorite Borden's Elsie the Cow, who returns to the Pavilion promoting the goodness of dairy products. Also, rock out with Radio Disney as it broadcasts live from the Pavilion. 2 p.m.-4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 5.

  • Kids can't get enough of the engaging musical duo The Biscuit Brothers. Their television program The Biscuit Brothers, produced in Austin, won a Lone Star Emmy for best children's programming in 2006. Come sing along to the catchy (and educational) Biscuit music in the Texas Beef Council Exhibit. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 5.

  • Country singer Haley Reynolds, the Dairy Festival Queen of Hopkins County, dazzles visitors on the Southwest Dairy Farmers Gazebo Stage. Noon-2 p.m. Monday, Oct. 6.

  • Toast a taste of Texas good cheer at the State Fair of Texas Wine Garden, presented by Kroger and sponsored by TDA. This week, representatives from Fall Creek Vineyards in the Hill Country, Llano Estacado Winery on the High Plains, Haak Vineyards on the Gulf Coast and Pleasant Hill Winery in Brenham are just some of the people on hand in the Wine Garden to help teach the story of Texas wineries and wines. Visitors will discover and meet the people who have put the Lone Star State on the worldwide winemaking map.

See you there!

Friday, September 26, 2008

“Texas” showcased at GO TEXAN Food and Fiber Pavilion


Click photo to activate slideshow of the Fair Foods and Find Wine event

I’ve always known there was something special about the Lone Star State, and at the State of Fair of Texas you are able to truly experience the spirit of those who make our state unique.
On Thursday I kicked off the Fair activities at the Fair Foods and Fine Wine event held in the GO TEXAN Food and Fiber Pavilion.

The event celebrated Texas foods and wines and showcased one-of-a-kind creations. From watermelon salsa and raspberry/jalapeno jelly to succulent steak quesadillas and Texas wines, the Food and Fiber Pavilion gives visitors a true taste of Texas. It’s definitely a stop you should plan to make on an empty stomach!
And those who want to get a jump-start on holiday gift shopping need to stop by the Texas Monthly Mercantile Store and Pioneer Brand General Store.

GO TEXAN members have displayed hundreds of unique items such as domino necklaces and tasty treats made from original recipes.
Best of all are the Texans who have worked so hard to see their dreams become reality. These are men and women from all walks of life, but with one thing in common – they are all GO TEXAN members.

I’m so proud of our GO TEXAN program in that it helps Texans promote their designs and products.
The State Fair of Texas runs through October 19. Take your family out there, and stop by the GO TEXAN Food and Fiber Pavilion for a tantalizing taste of our great state.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Aerial Tour with Houston Astros Player Carlos Lee


Today I traveled to Houston where Astros left fielder Carlos Lee, his wife Mary, and I took an aerial tour of the area damaged by Hurricane Ike. The storm’s impact on agriculture is staggering, with direct and indirect losses totaling several hundred million dollars. Many producers are left with croplands that will not be productive for one to possibly two years. Others have lost their entire operations, possibly forever. We need to do what we can to assist these Texans.

Lee raises Brahman cattle on his Texas ranch, and feels a strong connection to other agricultural producers. He says after viewing the massive destruction up close, he understands the hardships his fellow ranchers and the Texas agriculture industry now face.

"It's one thing to see it on the news and a whole different thing to see it live," Lee said. "It was hard. As a rancher I understand it's not easy to be in the cattle business. A lot of cattle are dead. Some people are coming back and seeing that all they worked for is destroyed."
Lee wants to help agricultural producers get back on their feet and he demonstrated his commitment by donating $25,000 to assist Texas farmer and ranchers as they recover.

Last week, I made an official request to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for assistance with future agricultural and rural restoration. While I’m hopeful Texans will receive federal assistance, Lee and I both ask you to take action now and help the people who put food on our tables and clothes on our backs – our fellow farmers and ranchers.


I want to remind everyone that a foundation has been created through the Texas AgriLife Extension Service to help fund some of the recovery efforts. To donate, visit agrilifevents.tamu.edu.




The Texas Farm Bureau has posted some pictures of Hurricane Ike’s devastation on its Web site to further demonstrate the need for your help. Click here to see the photos.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Slideshow from Aerial Tour of Hurricane Ike Damage

Click photo to view the slideshow of my aerial tour of Jefferson and Chambers counties last week:

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Texans Answer the Call for Assistance

No matter what we as Texans face, we always manage to pull through – together. This couldn’t be truer than in Chambers and Jefferson counties where efforts continue to save livestock.

Since Monday, when I asked Texans to help their neighbors by donating hay to feed hungry cattle and horses, we have received almost 4000 round bales and about 2000 more are being offered. This is truly incredible, and I thank all of you who have stepped up to the plate.

Texans have also come through on monetary donations. The Texas AgriLife Extension Service foundation has received almost $100,000 in funds. These monies will be used to continue relief efforts and assist producers in reestablishing their operations.

We have also had many ranchers offer their land for grazing. Between Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers and the Texas Department of Agriculture, we have been offered around 5,000 acres of pasture.

Our next step in this recovery process is contracting livestock haulers to help move cattle out of the devastated area. We are working with the Livestock Marketing Association and the state’s cattle associations to complete this task.

Finally, there is some good news out of the Farm Service Agency. Farmers and ranchers in counties affected by Hurricane Ike who were attempting to meet the Sept. 16 deadline for certain disaster assistance programs, but couldn't due to Hurricane-related temporary FSA office closures, now have an extension.
For more information contact FSA toll free by calling 1-866-680-6069 or visit www.fsa.usda.gov.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Helpful Phone Numbers and Links

Restoration and recovery efforts continue in Southeast Texas today following the devastation of Hurricane Ike. Below are some helpful phone numbers and links for those who would like to make a donation, or for those producers who need help:

REQUEST ASSISTANCE

AgriLife Extention Service
409-374-2123
Call the Chambers County AgriLife Extension Office if you are an agriculture producer in need of food, water or transport for your livestock.

Texas Animal Health Commission
(800) 550-8242, ext. 296
If you have general livestock or animal health questions, contact the Texas Animal Health Commission.

Natural Resources Conservation Service

(979) 846-0757, ext. 3
Call the Natural Resources Conservation Service if you need help disposing of animal carcasses left in the wake of Hurricane Ike.

Texas Attorney General
(800) 252-8011 or www.oag.state.tx.usIf you suspect a business of gasoline, or other, price gouging after the hurricane, you can report them by calling the attorney general or filing a report on the
Texas Attorney General's Web site. You can also find useful consumer protection information as you begin to recover and rebuild.

Small Business Administration
(800) U-ASK-SBA or www.sba.gov
Owners of small businesses, including some agriculture operations, affected by Hurricane Ike can apply for financial disaster assistance.

Federal Emergency Management Agency
(800) 621-FEMA or www.fema.gov
People affected by the storm can apply for disaster assistance from FEMA for food and lodging vouchers.

Public Utilities Commission
(888) 782-8477 or www.puc.state.tx.us
Get updated information on the progress of power restoration by contacting the Public Utility Commission of Texas.

MAKE A DONATION

Texas Department of Agriculture
1-800-TELL-TDA
Call the Texas Department of Agriculture if you would like to donate or assist in the transportation of hay, feed, water or other supplies to farmers and ranchers affected by the storm. There is also a need for assistance in transporting livestock from affected areas and pastures where evacuated animals may be re-located.

AgriLife Extension Service
(979) 845-2604 or
AgriLife online
Call or log-on to make a monetary contribute to help farmers and ranchers through the "No Fences" Hurricane Ike Horse and Cattle Relief fund. Monetary donations are needed to defray transportation costs associate with the rescue of horses and cattle, as well as the purchase of goods like feed and water troughs.

American Red Cross
(800) HELP-NOW
You can donate your time and money to those affected by the storm via the Red Cross.

East Texas Food Bank
(800) 815-3663
All food banks are taking food and money donations to help evacuees and other storm victims.