Thursday, December 31, 2009

A small suggestion for a successful New Year

The coming new year brings a chance for new beginnings, but it also can bring the pressure of achieving lofty new goals.

Some Texans will resolve to lose weight, quit bad habits or climb the career ladder. Others may plan to travel, master a new skill or pursue a lifelong passion.

While any positive change is admirable, it’s important to remember the small things. Small changes can make big differences. They also are easier to sustain, lending longevity to their rewards.

This new year, find a few more minutes each day to spend with your family. Feed your children healthier snacks. Serve your community. Explore your faith. Go for a short, daily walk.

A change doesn’t have to take all your free time or leave you exhausted after a hard day’s work. It doesn’t have to be expensive or go against unreasonable odds in order to be successful. A little can mean a lot, and small steps can go a long way.

In 2010, resolve to make a difference no matter how big or small. At the end of the year, we’ll all be glad you did.

Happy New Year, Texas!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Give the Gift of Giving

With the spirit of Christmas upon us, I am reminded it is better to give than to receive. As you make your holiday shopping list (and check it twice), I encourage you to be mindful of those in need and consider the gift of giving.

Giving doesn’t have to be expensive. In fact, it can cost little or nothing at all. Give your knowledge to a child who needs a mentor. Give surplus clothing to those who are cold. Give food to help feed the hungry.

Give time to a homebound neighbor who needs help with overdue errands. Give prayers to those in uniform who stand watch so we may enjoy peace. Give thanks to our farmers and ranchers who provide safe and affordable food.

The list is long enough to last all year, so this Christmas give the gift of giving. The smiles and thanks you receive in return will be the greatest gifts of all.

Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Family Land Heritage Program Keeps Tradition Alive

During this Christmas season, I encourage all Texans to appreciate the value of family. The team here at the Texas Department of Agriculture has an excellent reminder as we are currently busy certifying applications for the Family Land Heritage (FLH) program. Last week was the deadline to submit applications for this year. The FLH program recognizes Texas farms and ranches that have been in continuous agricultural production by the same family for 100 years or more.

It is rewarding to honor those families who have worked the land for generations and have managed to balance the seemingly unending pressures of family businesses with the infinite rewards of family bonds. These individuals, along with their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents, have worked tirelessly through the years to provide Texans with life-sustaining food and fiber.

As we complete our certification process, it appears we will honor nearly 100 families at our annual, summertime FLH ceremony. I am excited because that is an increase from our previous ceremony. Thank you to those families who submitted their applications and continue to make Texas a powerhouse of agricultural production. I look forward to meeting you all next year when we hold our FLH ceremony at the Capitol.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Texas A&M ranked in national study

While our football team at Texas A&M hasn’t ranked too high on the national stage lately (we are making great improvement), leadership in agriculture has been consistent over the years.

Texas A&M’s Department of Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communications was recently ranked second in the nation among 82 universities with similar programs. The programs were ranked in the study, “Characteristics of Distinguished Programs of Agricultural Education,” conducted by a professor from Ohio State, whose graduate team surveyed administrators across the country. They were asked to rank the agricultural programs they held in “highest professional regard.” Texas A&M was recognized by many as the most distinguished, based on factors such as faculty, research and international emphasis. A&M specifically was noted for its scope of research, leadership programs and faculty.

Congratulations to all those who contributed to achieving this national recognition. Your efforts are having a profound impact on Texas agriculture and our entire world.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Texas food banks get $2 million to feed hungry Texans

I was in Lubbock today to award the Texas Food Bank Network a $2 million grant. The Texans Feeding Texans: Surplus Agricultural Products Grant will be used by 19 food banks across the state to purchase and distribute surplus agricultural products from Texas farms.

In the last year, Texas food banks have experienced a 30 percent increase in demand. This grant is a win for farmers who have excess products and a win for hungry Texans in need of nutritious foods. It is also a win for Texas taxpayers as study after study has shown well fed children perform better in the classroom and a healthier population has a lower need for medical attention.

I appreciate the Legislature for recognizing the tremendous demand food banks are facing and making funds available to help feed hungry Texans. You can find out more about TDA’s Texans Feeding Texans program here. You can also donate directly to the Texas Food Bank Network by clicking here.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Making Texas a leader in the sustainable bioenergy industry

On Thursday, I chaired the first meeting of the Texas Bioenergy Policy Council. The council was created by the 81st Texas Legislature to make the state a leader in biofuel and biomass production. The group is charged with identifying a strategy to attract a sustainable bioenergy industry to Texas.

As we go forward, the council should ensure the policy we recommend is sustainable, equitable and defensible. The bioenergy industry in Texas must be able to stand on its own two feet; the government should not set mandates and choose winners and losers; and taxpayers must have confidence in and see benefits from renewable energy policy.

I was very impressed Thursday with the council members’ input and look forward to working with the group to find a blueprint for bioenergy success in Texas.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Interview on Agricultural Issues with KFLP

I recently spoke with KFLP's Tony St. James regarding several hot Texas agriculture issues.

We talked about TDA's boll weevil program, Country of Origin Labeling, the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act and how these issues are affecting Texas farmers and ranchers.

Click here to listen to the interview.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Vaccines Tested to Combat E. coli in Beef

Beef is to Texas like lobster is to Maine – a valuable commodity that just happens to taste good, too (obviously beef is better, but you get my point.) So Texans have more reasons than most for ensuring that we maintain the proud statistic of having the safest food supply in the world.

According to a NY Times article published Dec. 3, researchers believe E. coli vaccines, like the ones mentioned as being tested in the article, can reduce the number of animals carrying the bacteria by 65 to 75 percent.

While the debate regarding who will pick up the tab for the vaccines is ongoing, the end result could be an end to E. coli related food borne illnesses. That is great news, since the bacteria causes illnesses in about 73,000 Americans each year.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Remembering Pearl Harbor

As we remember and honor our troops who were attacked 68 years ago at Pearl Harbor, we are reminded of the ongoing sacrifices made by our men and women in the armed forces. For those brave public servants stationed around the world today, the threat of ambush is as real as it was in 1941. Our troops who face that threat and stand ready to defeat it are the reason we enjoy peace on the home front. Please join me on this important anniversary in saluting our men in women in uniform while we remember those who fought and fell in years past so that we might enjoy the liberties bestowed upon us today.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Whose water is it???

The Washington Times has an article today explaining the far-reaching impact of pending federal legislation to take control of any type of water and give it directly to the federal government. Now, just because a continued expansion of national powers and an ongoing dilution of state’s rights and individual freedoms seems to be the norm these days, no one – and especially no Texan – needs to let their guard down for one minute.

It is essential we take every opportunity to remind those in Congress to read the 10th Amendment to the United States Constitution. Actually, they need to do more than read it; they need to adhere to the pledge they made when they laid down a hand on the Bible, raised their right hand and promised to uphold the Constitution.

Bill Threatens Texas Farmers and Ranchers

In a 225-200 vote, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill providing a so-called “permanent fix” to the estate tax. This tax threatens to force Texas farmers and ranchers out of the agriculture business when family members pass away and leave the land to a new generation.

I am glad Congress is interested in solving this problem once and for all. Furthermore, I hope their attempt to fix this problem will result in a truly permanent resolution. The bill approved would still result in many Texas farmers and ranchers giving 45 percent of their operations to Uncle Sam simply because they died. I took the opportunity to let the Texas Congressional delegation know that Texas producers need more protection from the IRS in order to continue providing a safe, reliable source of food and fiber.

The bill now moves on to the U.S. Senate. You can read my letter by clicking here or by visiting our TDA Web site at and clicking on Newsroom/Reading Room.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Is cotton’s kingdom getting bigger?

If Texas were its own country (most Texans think this is a pretty good idea), it would be the sixth largest cotton-producing nation in the world. In fact, 39 percent of the cotton grown in the United States is grown in the Lone Star State. To both rural and urban Texans alike, this means jobs, capital investment and opportunity.

So, finding even more uses for the fluffy fiber and its seed is always good news. I remember feeding cottonseed meal to our cattle during the winter in East Texas, and our cows would fight vigorously to be the first in line. Researchers now say cottonseed is even closer to being used as a human food source. Instead of cattle pushing one another around, there may soon be a few elbows at the table. Click on this link to find out more. And, keep your fork handy.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Be Thankful

Any way you slice it, 2009 has had more than the usual share of obstacles and high hurdles: exceptional drought in most parts of Texas followed by flooding in the remaining areas, high unemployment, high foreclosures and bank failures, mounting national debt that threatens our worldwide competitive ability, historically low overall economic activity for our state and nation, the tragic loss of life at Ft. Hood and family members with serious health problems.

It has been such a tough year in so many ways that this Thanksgiving, do you know what I am going to do? Well, I am going to be thankful.

I am thankful for God’s blessings. I am thankful for my family. I am thankful to be a Texan. I am thankful our team at the Texas Department of Agriculture has an opportunity to partner with so many terrific individuals and organizations throughout our great state. I am thankful that even with all that I don’t like and want to change, I live in a country where each individual has opportunity and freedom. I am thankful the Aggies have the home field advantage for this year’s football game with the Longhorns and am thankful my Longhorn friends don’t rub in the last few years (too much). I am thankful I caught an old cow we’ve been trying to pen for over two years! Finally, I am thankful for each new day we are given to make it better than yesterday.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

Monday, November 23, 2009

No Texan deserves to be hungry

Last week I spoke to more than 250 representatives at Texas at the Table: Baylor University Hunger Summit. The forum was created to share solutions to end food insecurity in Texas by 2015. Unfortunately, right now we lead the nation in children who are food insecure.

USDA recently released a study showing that food insecurity hit a record high in 2008. The number of food-insecure U.S. households was up 31 percent in 2008. With so many food-insecure homes in the U.S. and Texas, I am concerned that the Obama administration and some in Congress are contemplating policies that will make food more expensive. For example Washington’s recent ideas to implement a cap-and-trade system and to require additional EPA permits for pesticide applicators and feedlots will undoubtedly drive food costs higher, widening the gap between those who can afford food and those who can’t.

To truly end hunger in Texas, we must work together and create programs where people who don’t make enough to support their families can earn the skills they need to be able to get better paying jobs. Americans enjoy the safest, most affordable food supply in the world. Texas is a prosperous state with tremendous resources. We must match those resources with those who are truly in need.

No Texan should ever go hungry. We can and must do better. You can make a difference by volunteering at your local food bank, offering to help with a home-delivered meals agency or by getting your mayor to accept the Texas Department of Agriculture Mayors Challenge. Click here to find out more.

Commentary: Sharing water and responsibilities

A commentary I wrote on Texas' serious water issues appears in today's Austin American-Statesman. It is critical that we strike the right balance when dealing with the distribution of water. Please take some time to read the commentary and pass it along to others. Thank you.

Staples: Sharing water and responsibilities
Austin American Statesman
Monday, November 23, 2009

When I first began serving as a state representative, I remember House Speaker Pete Laney beginning his speech on opening day by saying, "One hundred years ago, Texans were carrying guns and fighting over water. Not much has changed."

I hope Texans never give up their fighting spirit, but competing over water is a battle we must move beyond. The drought of 2008-2009 has brought home some tough realities for all Texans and an even tougher debate about how to allocate available water supplies.

I appreciate the Lower Colorado River Authority's recent decision to honor an existing contract with Texas rice farmers that will supply water for their first crop. At issue is the availability of water for a much-needed second crop to help increase an already limited supply of rice. Much of the rice Texans find in grocery stores is grown right here in the Lone Star State. In fact, a recent report shows the rice grown in the three counties that receive LCRA water has an annual economic impact of $355 million for the Texas economy and is responsible for 2,590 jobs.

All water managers, suppliers, planners and strategists must be careful to realize this is not a clear-cut fight between opposing parties in need of water. We cannot simply grapple over what we have. Each has a responsibility to extend the reach of existing resources and develop new and reliable sources of water.

Yes, municipalities need water. Yes, industry needs water. Yes, our ecological systems and residents need water. But we also need our farmers to have water. If affordable options for water are not provided to our farmers, it is likely Texans will no longer have affordable and safe food supplies.

As we contemplate water strategies, water needs and water allocations, it is important to keep in mind the lack of water and who gets cut off is not just a farmer's problem — it's a Texas problem.

Conservation practices, more drought-tolerant seed varieties, technology and more efficient watering systems are all a part of a farmer's proper water management. Farmers have made tremendous strides in the last few years alone, and more steps are being taken to preserve water resources.

Whether we stop and think about it daily or not, the reality is water starts and ends with the land and the landowner. We must approach this water debate not from a winner's and loser's perspective, but from a Texas perspective. Otherwise, we focus too much on the problems and not enough on the solutions.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Texas seed production

We Texans pride ourselves on being the biggest and the best at what we do. We are still the No.1 producing state when it comes to cattle, cotton, sheep and goats, wool, mohair, horses and hay. Pretty big list, huh?

I spoke to the Texas State Seed Trade Association the other day. In doing some background work, I read an article published by the Texas Agricultural Extension Service that said “Texas produces approximately 90 percent of the hybrid sorghum seed planted in the United States and 45 percent of the world supply.”

Forty-five percent of the WORLD supply! It ain’t braggin’ if it’s true.

We have a great team that works on seed certification here at the Texas Department of Agriculture. The team should feel good knowing their efforts are having a worldwide impact. Our seed growers invest heavily and we are thankful for their leadership here in Texas, throughout the United States and around the globe.

The next time you hear everything is bigger in Texas, remember it ain’t braggin’ if it’s true!

Urban students take an interest in agriculture

Agriculture remains a big portion of our state’s economy, accounting for almost 9.5 percent of Texas’ Gross State Product - the sum of all value added by industries within the state. Expanded science and technology have been tremendous catalysts for increasing the importance of agriculture.

As our state’s population continues to expand, particularly in the urban areas, some may mistakenly think interest in agriculture’s importance and the need for agriculture education have diminished. Not so, according to a recent article in the Dallas Morning News.

“Our program is probably going stronger in the urban areas than it is in the rural areas,” said Gerald Young, executive director of the Vocational Agriculture Teachers Association of Texas.

To read the entire article, click here.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A Texan worth talking about

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Otis Fuller while visiting the town of Beeville. As you can tell from the article below, which is posted online at, Fuller was the mastermind behind an invention that has met the needs of many domestic and international farmers and consumers. In fact, it is estimated that half the world’s vegetables are planted using Fuller’s original design.

In today’s fast-paced society, this amazing Texan who is helping feed people all over the world just isn’t receiving the recognition he deserves.

Thank you, Otis Fuller, for making the world a better place.

Quit complaining with your mouth full

by Jeff Latcham

When Otis Fuller’s friends think of him, it’s likely his wicked sense of humor that stands out about the avid sportsman.

But as an article in the Oct. 24 Bee-Picayune illustrated, his legacy will be more about feeding the world than playing practical jokes. It was some 18 years ago that a Valley onion grower asked Fuller if he could develop a planter to produce four seed rows to a bed.

Fuller came up with a design and built a prototype with his crew here in his Beeville tractor shop. He recalls making 13 trips down to the Valley to tweak his creation. The result was so successful, more orders came pouring in and Fuller contacted Monoseum about producing his planter design. Two decades later, an estimated half of the world’s vegetables are planted with Fuller’s design. Think about that.

Now capitalism is under fire in America and drawing plenty of wrath, particularly from politicians who ultimately are making a push for socialism. It is fashionable among liberals to proclaim capitalism dead after the mutant investment banks of Wall Street spun Congress’ own subprime loan creation into an economic meltdown. Yet here in Beeville, we have an excellent example of how capitalism spurs mankind’s best creative juices.

This planter that feeds half the world wasn’t invented behind the Iron Curtain in the old U.S.S.R. or the Bamboo Curtain in the People’s Republic of China; yet in Russia, it’s now used to plant cabbage and in China to plant carrots. It was developed by a man trying to make a sale to a customer and, in the process, make a profit. Sorry if that offends the idealist, but it goes directly to human nature and there’s really nothing wrong with that.

We all benefit because Otis Fuller benefited. So the next time you enjoy a salad, or a side of vegetables, there’s a pretty good chance they began with the fertile mind of Otis Fuller fueled by good ol’ American capitalism.

Honoring our nation's military

As I watched various news stories of Veterans Day celebrations across our state and nation, I was inspired by the level of patriotism alive and well in the United States of America. Thanks to the sacrifices and service of our veterans, we enjoy the daily privileges of life and liberty.

Our armed forces are all volunteers. They serve with a sense of dedication and duty that has been handed down since 1776.

It should go without saying that every day is a good day to thank a veteran. Please join me in continuing this day of celebration beyond November 11 each year.

Monday, November 9, 2009

What do You Bring?

The excitement was in the air at Francisco F. “Pancho” Medrano Middle School in Dallas today as TDA launched the ‘Texans Bring It!” campaign. The campaign is designed to build on the Three E’s of Healthy Living -- Education, Exercise and Eating Right. By asking students, “what do you bring?” to help live a healthier lifestyle, we are encouraging them to take an active role in staying fit and eating right.

Our schools are doing a great job of providing healthy options for students, but we must move beyond the lunchroom and into the classrooms and living rooms across Texas if we’re going to win the war on obesity. In the last two decades, the obesity rates have doubled across America. These statistics are alarming and we must partner together to stop this trend.

By teaching our children the 3E’s we can help them build a path to a healthy lifestyle that they can follow through adulthood. Check out for more information on this exciting campaign. I want to thank our partners, including USDA and school districts across Texas as we move forward and help “Texans Bring It!”

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Texas Counties Plagued by Drought Eligible for Emergency Loans

On Tuesday, Secretary Vilsack released the final results of a March 6, 2009 request from Governor Perry to designate all 254 Texas counties as primary disaster counties on account of the record-setting drought that has plagued the Lone Star State.

After more than seven months of collecting moisture data and crop losses, USDA announced that 223 Texas counties are eligible for assistance from the Farm Service Agency. That means producers in these counties may now apply for emergency loans and the Supplemental Revenue Insurance (SURE) Program created in the 2008 Farm Bill.

Emergency loans can be used for costs associated with operating expenses or replacement of damaged property. The SURE Program provides disaster payments to producers in disaster-designated counties with crops covered by crop insurance or the Non-Insured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP) coverage. If you are a producer in one of these counties, I encourage you to contact your local FSA office to take advantage of these vital programs.

To see a list of the designated counties, click here.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Taiwan expands access to U.S. beef imports

More good news for Texas ranchers as USDA and the offices of the U.S. Trade Representative announced yesterday that Taiwan has expanded the type of beef cuts it will now import from the United States. I’ve always said our trade policies must be science-based and this is a step in the right direction, especially coming off the heels of Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin’s effort last week to try to convince the Taiwanese government to reconsider its decision to expand access to U.S. beef imports.

Contrary to what Mayor Lung-bin and a consumer group in Taiwan think, the U.S. does not want to dump its trash in Taiwan. The beef products we will offer Taiwan are the same ones that are offered and demanded by U.S. consumers.

The Taiwanese government deserves a sincere “thank you” for recognizing that trade decisions should be based not only on science, but also on demand. The promising demand in Taiwan will result in increased prices for U.S. cattle producers who, along with other agriculture producers, have been suffering extensively this past year.

To read USDA’s press release on this announcement, click here.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Nation Catching on that Texas is the Best Retirement Location

The rest of the nation is learning that Texas is the best retirement location. Our favorable tax structure, exceptionable health care facilities, low housing costs and overall low cost of living, as well as wonderful weather create, the perfect setting to enjoy active retirement and golden years. The Chicago Tribune and other publications across the country recently printed an article how Texas is the "new Florida" when it comes to retiring. After reading the article check out for information on GO TEXAN Certified Retirement Communities.

Texas, the new Florida, lures seniors with sun, low cost living

Don Lee, October 30, 2009
Washington Bureau for Tribune Interactive, Copyright © 2009

After trying out Atlanta, Miami and Pasadena, Calif., Lilian Junco decided this was the place to retire. Being near her son was the first attraction, but soon she was drawn in by the same combination of features that has lured tens of thousands of others from out of state -- Gulf Coast living, plus super-low costs.

With some of the country's cheapest prices for housing, gas and food, no state income tax and one of the most resilient economies in the nation, Galveston and other parts of the Lone Star state are emerging as the new Florida.

This week, when Florida demographers announce new population figures, they are expected to reveal a decline of 57,000 over the 12 months ended in April -- the first annual drop since the 1940s. Much of the loss has come in parts of southern Florida that long attracted retirees.

Meantime, other Sun Belt states such as Nevada and Arizona have been hit hard by the recession, and expensive California has long seen more residents leave than move in from other states.

But Texas, which has weathered the current recession better than most parts of the country, is almost booming--in part because an earlier oil industry crash had left the state's banks too shaken to go on the home mortgage binge that crippled so many other states when the market collapsed. Texas's population, the nation's second largest at about 25 million, is expected to be boosted this year by net inflows of at least 150,000 people from other states, says Karl Eschbach, the state demographer. Seniors are a growing part of that trend, pushed by aggressive campaigns from state officials and developers.

"It's an easy sell," claims Texas Agricultural Commissioner Todd Staples, who's trying to recruit out-of-state seniors by establishing dozens of high-quality "certified" retirement communities. "All we need to do is get retirees to have a good look at Texas."

They'll see big drawbacks along with the advantages. Poverty, highway gridlock, crime and humidity can be stifling in some parts. And places along the Gulf Coast are notoriously susceptible to ferocious weather, such as Hurricane Ike that slammed the Galveston area last year. Ike flooded downtown and sent waves crashing over a 17-foot-tall seawall built after the devastating Galveston Hurricane of 1900, which is still considered the worst natural disaster in American history.

None of that fazed Junco. Having grown up in Cuba, she didn't fear tropical storms. Florida isn't any better, she says, nor is California with its earthquakes. She remembers the panic when her Pasadena condo rattled a few years ago. "The whole bed was shaking," she says.

Moving to Galveston two years ago, Junco paid $130,000 for a one-bedroom condo with a view of the Gulf. A cap on property taxes for seniors keeps her payments low, leaving a little more money for the 70-year-old widow to travel and frequent the restaurants and shops in this touristy island.

For most of her adult life, Junco lived in Long Island and worked as a computer technician in Manhattan. She says retiring to Hawaii was too expensive. Her second choice was here. "Life is more quiet, it's more simple," she says, sipping a chocolate martini with friends at a café on a balmy Thursday evening.

For health care, she goes to the University of Texas Medical Branch here, or drives an hour west to Houston, which has world-class medical facilities. The downside is that it's not easy for seniors to get from place to place if they don't drive: big Texas cities have poor public transportation, says demographer Eschbach. "It's really hard to get around," he says, "and we have relatively little social services."

Undeterred, retirees head for places like the Rio Grande Valley, in the southernmost tip of the state abutting Mexico. Seniors from the Midwest and other northern states have long flocked here for the winter. Locals call them winter Texans.

Doug and Cheryl Lundy used to keep two homes -- their primary one in Avis, Pa., and the other in a mobile home park outside Brownsville, Texas. They were typical snowbirds, arriving in January. Come April, they'd head up to the Jersey Shore in April. But starting this year the couple decided to stay put.

Cheryl Lundy loves the hot weather -- and the living costs. She says butter costs her $1.77 a pound now, not $2.29 in her old market in Pennsylvania. "It's not just the butter," she says. "It's everything in the store."

Government reports confirm food prices are cheaper in America's breadbasket states. And for seniors on social security and other retirement income, their checks don't change from place to place.

Annual cost of living adjustments are the same nationwide, so their income may actually go farther where prices are lower.

Then there's the Mexico price. Every couple of months, retirees Thomas and Shirley Jones, transplants from Indiana, cross the bridge nearby McClellan into Nuevo Progresso, where he buys medicine for his emphysema at half price. Last year Shirley Jones got a full plate of upper dentures for $325, a fraction of what it costs in the states.

The Joneses used to be Floridians, but "Florida got so high on everything," she says. "We couldn't afford it."

Stanley Smith, the University of Florida demographer who produces official population reports for the state, says the latest recession will make Florida's cost of living more competitive. Home prices have fallen by as much as 60% in parts of the state. What's not yet clear is how Texas will fare with Baby Boomers, whose retirement path remains undefined, experts say.

The oldest of that generation is 63 this year. The recession and loss of wealth may hold back their migration, and many Boomers may look to settle in places where they can find part-time work.

That could be a big plus for Texas. It's expected to outstrip the nation in job growth in the next few years. Already four of the nation's top 10 fastest aging metro areas over the last decade have been in Texas, says the Brookings Institution.

"I think Texas has been attracting many seniors in large numbers and has many amenities along with low living costs which lure them," says William Frey, a Brookings demographer.

California is a primary target for Lone Star boosters. Last year more than 82,000 people from California moved to Texas, while some 32,000 from Texas went to the Golden State, according to data from the Internal Revenue Service.

Charles and Joan Baker will be adding to that trend this year. Even before selling their Rancho Santa Fe townhome, now on the market for $829,000, the California couple closed on a ranch-style house in the Sun City retirement community north of Austin.

Joan Baker, who is in her 60s, wouldn't say how much they paid for the new place, which is slightly larger than their property in San Diego County. But a Sun City spokesperson says the average home in the community of rolling hills is currently running about $218,000.

"I'm not saying it's easy to leave," says Joan Baker, a retired schoolteacher. "The whole San Diego area is lovely. To go north and south, east or west, and be able to see the water, it's pretty unique.

"But other things are beginning to outweigh it," she says, complaining about overcrowding and the state's budget mess. She says her husband is semi-retired and will continue his consulting work -- in Texas.

"It's just real convenient living," she says. "The terrain's a little higher so you get a breeze. There are lots of oak trees. You've got three golf courses that are drop-dead gorgeous…And in Texas, you don't have income tax."

Friday, October 30, 2009

For now, EPA won’t tax livestock gases

I don't always agree with the legislation that comes out of Washington, D.C. – especially the environmental policies Congress has come up with lately – but every now and then the federal government surprises me.

On Thursday, both Houses of Congress passed the FY2010 Interior Appropriations bill. This legislation funds the Department of Interior, EPA and many other agencies overseeing the environment and public lands. Included in the bill is language that prohibits EPA from requiring livestock producers to obtain Clean Air Act permits to cover livestock emissions during the 2010 fiscal year.

Still, there is fear in many agriculture circles that EPA could later choose to regulate the natural emissions of livestock as it has with greenhouse gases from industrial sources. This regulation would likely force many producers out of business and, in turn, increase costs for consumers, and likely move more food production out of our country. This is why more needs to be done.

There is legislation pending in Congress that would make this prohibition permanent. S. 527, written by Senators John Thune (R-SD) and Charles Schumer (D-NY), would statutorily prohibit the EPA from requiring Clean Air Act permits for livestock emissions. It is imperative that Congress move to pass this legislation quickly so America’s livestock producers do not have to worry about possibly adding another cost to the mounting input costs they already cover in order to provide us with the most affordable, most abundant and safest food supply in the world.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Volunteers Show Farmer True Texan Spirit

Texas has deep roots - not only because of it's long history of family land heritage, but because of the kindness Texans have always shown to their neighbors. This story below truly exhibits the unbreakable spirit that lives within each Texan. It's great to see this spirit alive and well today.

Volunteers swarm to help farmer
By Matthew Mcgowan
Lubbock Avalanche-Journal , October 29, 2009

The timing couldn't have been worse.

With only a month to go before this year's harvest, Wilson cotton farmer Curtis Gicklhorn finally underwent surgery in September to remove a sore on his left foot that had been ailing him for years.

The procedure left Gicklhorn with several large rods running into and through his foot and shin. Doctors told him to stay off his feet until after the harvest in early November.

Gicklhorn began to panic. But word of the farmer's hard times spread to 54 friends and neighbors who descended this week on his farm 20 miles south of Lubbock, just in the nick of time.

"I nearly went to tears," he said Wednesday afternoon as he watched the volunteers in harvest equipment finish their third and final day.

"I was really impressed," Gicklhorn said. "Everybody just got together to come help. It looked like the cavalry was coming."

The 54 volunteers - "a good Christian group," Gicklhorn said - ranged in age from 19 to 80 years and came from all across the county.

Some supplied equipment. Others donated their time.

The community strip, as it is called, is not altogether uncommon in farming communities when one of their own falls ill or otherwise cannot complete a year's harvest, he said, but he has not heard of one involving so many volunteers.

"I cried like a baby," Gicklhorn's mother Pearl Gicklhorn said with tears in her eyes. "It's the way it always has been and it's the way it always will be."

Curtis Wilke, another Wilson resident, recalled a similar situation about 21 years ago when he was in Gicklhorn's position after a triple bypass heart surgery.

He said 33 people showed up on his doorstep and helped him through that year's harvest.

Participating in Gicklhorn's community strip, Wilke said, was just his way of paying it forward.

"It's just a good neighbor community," he said. "We help when we can."

The unusually large number of helpers this year compressed two weeks of harvesting into only three days, Curtis Gicklhorn said.

A local gin operator even pitched in and offered to process Gicklhorn's crops first.

"He just had bad luck, and it's a community deal," said Buzz Cooper of Texas Star Co-op Gin. "We just wanted to get his done and get his money in his pocket first. It's a good community and we're happy to be a part of it."

Monday, October 26, 2009

Feral Hogs Continue to Ransack Texas Agricultural Land

I thought you would like the statement from Billy Higginbotham, a wildlife specialist at Texas A&M University, as quoted in The Atlantic Magazine:

"There are two types of landowners in Texas — those that have hogs, and those that are about to have hogs."

The Texas Department of Agriculture currently contracts with Wildlife Services at Texas A&M University for feral hog abatement efforts. I have conducted two meetings of statewide stakeholders over the last several months to brainstorm on a strategy for control efforts.

While the task is large and the resources are few to combat the wild hog problem in the Lone Star State, we are trying to find the most effective means to deploy the $1 million dollars appropriated by the legislature to address the ever-growing problem. There are no easy solutions. Control efforts will require direct involvement of all landowners and local governments if we are to make a dent in the problem.

Look for more updates from us on this issue. Meanwhile, you should know my own place has been ransacked by these depredating pigs over the last few weeks and it sends the blood pressure up a bit to see your pasture and range rooted up.

Taiwan Reopens its borders to U.S. Beef

As the national leader in beef cattle production, Texas welcomes expanded markets for our top commodity.

When Taiwan recently announced it reopened its borders to U.S. beef, the news was good for Texas cattlemen and the state's economy. With cattle prices and margins at dangerously low levels and our feed lot system having suffered tremendous losses over the past year, we can sure use more good news like that found in the article below.

Taiwan Lifts Ban On U.S. Beef Import

10/23/2009, RTT News

Taiwan lifted a partial ban on importing beef from the United States.

At present, Taiwan only allows imports of U.S. boneless beef that contain no specified risk materials (SRMs) and from cattle younger than 30 months.

Under an agreement signed Thursday by both sides in Washington DC, U.S. bone-in beef, ground beef, intestines and processed beef that have not been contaminated with SRMs will be allowed to enter Taiwan with effect from November 10.

The south-East Asian island nation's health department has stipulated that all imported beef products will have to carry a label of approval from the U.S. Agriculture Department.

The Vice-Minister of Taiwan's Department of Health, Hsiao Mei-ling, told a news conference Friday that Taiwanese importers could apply to import U.S. bone-in beef and organs after Taipei and Washington have made a formal announcement of the protocol within the next 10 days.

Taiwan imposed restrictions on US beef imports in 2003 after the United States reported its first case of mad-cow disease

Thursday, October 15, 2009

National School Lunch Week

This week, Oct. 12-16, is National School Lunch Week, and I hope all Texas students are participating by eating the delicious and nutritious meals conveniently served at their schools. Eating lunch at school is all part of the 3E’s of Healthy Living – Education, Exercise and Eating Right.

In honor of National School Lunch Week, I am releasing this sneak peek of a digitally animated video created to encourage Texas students to adopt the 3E’s of Healthy Living. The video is part of a larger campaign called “Texans Bring It!” designed to engage youth to make decisions that will help them live healthy lives free from obesity-related illnesses.

Watch the trailer here!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Palestine Food Pantry Dedication

Sundays are always good for me, particularly when I am in East Texas. Today is even more special.

Court Drive Church of Christ in Palestine dedicated a new food pantry today to meet the needs of those in their community and invited Janet and me to participate. The East Texas Food Bank in Tyler serves the Court Drive food pantry. Our food banks and pantries all across Texas are a key component to meeting the needs of those less fortunate in our society and I think their activity sends the right message about who we are as Texans.

Food pantries and their similar organizations rely heavily, if not entirely, on volunteers. Farmers and ranchers are noted to donate heavily to food banks with their excess and surplus items, as do many grocery stores and retailers. Food banks pre-stage food items and then deliver them in times of disaster, such as during hurricanes.

I am reminded of a scripture in James 1:27 that says “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress….”

With the dedication of this new food pantry and their on-going activities, Court Drive Church of Christ truly puts these words into action.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A Conversation of Strategies for Texas Success

On Tuesday, I attended a memorial service for Norman Borlaug – an American agronomist and humanitarian. Borlaug is one of only five individuals to date who has received the Nobel Peace Prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal.

Shortly after the service, I visited with U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who spoke at the memorial. It was a good opportunity to listen to his ideas for American agriculture and share with him some priorities for Texas.

I let him know we appreciate the responsiveness of the USDA state offices in Texas and that we seek to have similar relationships at the senior level in Washington, DC. The USDA state offices are staffed by a fine bunch of people who work hard to support our producers, but many decisions important to Texas are made in Washington.

I also conveyed to him the diversity of Texas agricultural production and how we differ from other states with respect to having multiple needs requiring a direct partnership with USDA. Disaster assistance, trade/exports, plant and animal health, and rural economic development were prioritized issues. Renewable fuels were also discussed and I stressed the need to find win-win strategies that are sustainable and market based.

Due to time constraints our meeting ended before we could finish discussing other topics, including nutrition and the need to encourage the 3 E’s of Healthy Living - Education, Exercise and Eating Right.

I look forward to picking up where we left off and continuing our conversation of strategies for Texas success.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Southwest Classic

Stephen Pahl, Commissioner Staples, Chris Drews and Tim Speer show Aggie pride before kickoff of the Southwest Classic at the new Cowboy Stadium

Who would of have thought, with more than 71,000 fans at the new Cowboy Stadium for the A&M and Arkansas football game, I would run into TDA employees Stephen Pahl and Chris Drews from our Executive Division and Tim Speer from our Administrative Services Division. But sure enough in the middle of the sea of maroon I spotted my fellow Aggies.

Obviously, from the expression on our faces you can tell we met up before the beating our football team took at the hands of the Razorbacks. I have decided next year we may need to call out the TDA feral hog eradication team. Maybe we need to meet up with the Arkansas mascot, "Tusk," at the front gate of Cowboy stadium, to give the hog a nice Aggie welcome. Gig' em Aggies!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Statement regarding a Dallas judge’s ruling that Texas’ definition of marriage is unconstitutional

Yesterday a Dallas judge ruled that Texas’ definition of marriage is unconstitutional. Judges should not legislate from the bench. Texas voters overwhelmingly adopted this provision as a part of our state constitution. Throughout the U.S., states have voted to protect the definition of marriage as between one man, one woman. Texans should be outraged a single judge has undermined the citizens of the state of Texas. Our state's constitution is for the people, by the people. It is our constitution which guides the bench – not the bench that guides the constitution.

Texas Drought Far from Fixed

The recent rains have been plenty welcome, but the damage from this year’s record-setting drought is far from fixed.

Not surprisingly, many Texans and neighboring partners have rolled up their sleeves to tackle the task of getting much-needed hay to fellow ranchers and producers.

In Refugio County, a coordinated effort between De-Go-La RC&D, Agri-Life Extension Service and Copano Bay Soil and Water Conservation District is bringing hay in from Oklahoma at the discounted rate of $49 per bale to bolster relief efforts. A similar initiative in Gonzales, Lavaca and Goliad counties finds hay being trucked in from Arkansas for $49 per bale. Another round of applause goes to those who have secured $33 bale shipments from Arkansas to Victoria County on the rails of Southern Pacific.

Like the recent rains, these partnerships are greatly appreciated and need to be sustained.

Here at TDA, we held a conference call last week with the Independent Cattlemen’s Association, Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, the Texas Farm Bureau and Agri-Life Extension Service to determine if a statewide hay coordination effort was needed at this time. The consensus was to support the local county efforts already underway as the most efficient and effective way to meet the needs of local ranchers. Their early successes are great examples of how local groups can move faster and more efficiently to help those in need.

Meanwhile, our TDA Hay Hotline stands ready to find sources of discounted transportation options to connect suppliers with Texas ranchers. To offer hay for sale, donate hay or help secure discounted transportation services, call the Hay Hotline at 1-877-429-1998 and help us help our Texas ranchers recover.

Do your neighbor a favor and email the Hay Hotline link or call in number to someone today.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

GO TEXAN Restaurant Round-Up Chef Showdown

Chief Communications Officer Veronica Obregon had the opportunity to judge the GO TEXAN Chef Showdown on Sept. 30. Here is her guest blog on the delicious Texas meals she sampled for the event.

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup. Pan Roasted Snapper. Is your mouth watering yet? Mine sure was last night when I joined nine other judges for a GO TEXAN Chef Showdown at the Hyatt. The event was part of the GO TEXAN Restaurant Round-Up, the only weeklong statewide dine-out event highlighting Texas farmers, ranchers, local food and restaurants.

The cook-off was a competition among chefs from three Austin hotel restaurants: TRIO at the Four Seasons; Driskill Grill; and Southwest Bistro at the Hyatt. All three chefs had to prepare an appetizer and a main entree with a southwest flare, using ONLY Texas-grown/raised ingredients. And they did a fabulous job!

My favorites included TRIO’s Shrimp Ceviche and Southwest Bistro’s Elderberry Braised Lamb Shanks. But really, every single dish I tried was awesome!

Thank you first to Farm Credit for helping make this year’s GO TEXAN Restaurant Round-Up a success. And thank you to all of the chefs last night and all other chefs across the state who make it a priority to cook with products grown and raised by Texas farmers and ranchers.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Conroe Noon Lions Club Meeting

With Conroe Noon Lion's Club Program Chairman, "Lion" Pete Brasher, and President, Mel Lonon

Congratulations to the Conroe Noon Lions Club on being the second largest in the United States. Of the 43,000 Lions Clubs in the world, the Conroe Noon Lions Club is the fifth largest. Pretty impressive, huh?

I had the opportunity to address members today and thank them for their service and dedication to building a better Texas. These men and women understand the importance of giving back and are very active in benefiting worthy causes in the Montgomery County area.

Montgomery County has enjoyed substantial growth since 2000, increasing approximately 40.4 percent to a population of 412,638. Along with this tremendous population growth, the area’s agriculture industry also is growing. Montgomery County cash receipts for agricultural products in 2008 totaled $108.8 million, with a statewide economic impact of $183.4 million.

As the Montgomery County area continues to grow and prosper, the leadership and vision of organizations like the Conroe Noon Lions Club will become increasingly more important to enriching the community and bettering all of Texas.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Day Two of the GO TEXAN Restaurant Round-Up in Longview

Joined today by State Rep. Tommy Merritt, Gregg County Judge Bill Stoudt and members of the local agriculture and business industry, we celebrated day two of the GO TEXAN Restaurant Round-Up, presented by Farm Credit , at Johnny Cace’s Seafood and Steak House in Longview. A lunch, made with fresh Texas-grown ingredients, was served as part of the only statewide, weeklong dine-out event in Texas created to honor Texas farmers and ranchers who provide us with the safest and most affordable food supply in the world.

Showcasing the best of Texas is what the GO TEXAN Restaurant Round-Up is all about. When restaurants like Johnny Cace’s Seafood and Steak House choose foods grown by Texas farmers and ranchers, more jobs are created and our economy benefits. Through the Round-Up, all Texans have the opportunity to celebrate Texas by dining at restaurants serving their customers locally grown and raised products.

In addition to supporting Texas agriculture, the GO TEXAN Restaurant Round-Up also benefits local communities, as many restaurants are donating a portion of their proceeds to local food banks.

The GO TEXAN Restaurant Round-Up runs Sept. 28-Oct. 2. For more information, visit

Monday, September 28, 2009

GO TEXAN Restaurant Round-Up is Sept. 28 - Oct. 2

State Representatives Vicki Truitt, Marc Veasey, Lon Burnam, and Mark Shelton helped me kick off the GO TEXAN Restaurant Round-Up at Eddie V’s in Fort Worth today. This event is the only statewide dine-out event featuring the best of Texas.

Now in its second year, the GO TEXAN Restaurant Round-Up links Texas farmers and ranchers with restaurants that proudly serve Texas ingredients. This year, more than 400 Texas restaurant locations are participating in the Round-Up. Not only is the Round-Up a winner for Texas consumers, it also benefits many area food banks that receive a portion of the proceeds from participating restaurants.

The Round-Up runs from Sept. 28 - Oct 2. Visit for a restaurant near you. Remember GO OUT. GO EAT. GO TEXAN.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Eminent Domain Reform Needed

Check out this article. It clearly demonstrates the need for eminent domain reform and the failure of current policy.

Or read full text below:

Conn. land vacant 4 years after court OK'd seizure
By KATIE NELSON Associated Press Writer

NEW LONDON, Conn. — Weeds, glass, bricks, pieces of pipe and shingle splinters have replaced the knot of aging homes at the site of the nation's most notorious eminent domain project.

There are a few signs of life: Feral cats glare at visitors from a miniature jungle of Queen Anne's lace, thistle and goldenrod. Gulls swoop between the lot's towering trees and the adjacent sewage treatment plant.

But what of the promised building boom that was supposed to come wrapped and ribboned with up to 3,169 new jobs and $1.2 million a year in tax revenues? They are noticeably missing.

Proponents of the ambitious plan blame the sour economy. Opponents call it a "poetic justice."

"They are getting what they deserve. They are going to get nothing," said Susette Kelo, the lead plaintiff in the landmark property rights case. "I don't think this is what the United States Supreme Court justices had in mind when they made this decision."

Kelo's iconic pink home sat for more than a century on that currently empty lot, just steps away from Connecticut's quaint but economically distressed Long Island Sound waterfront. Shortly after she moved in, in 1997, her house became ground zero in the nation's best-known land rights catfight.

New London officials decided they needed Kelo's land and the surrounding 90 acres for a multimillion-dollar private development that included residential, hotel conference, research and development space and a new state park that would complement a new $350 million Pfizer pharmaceutical research facility.

Kelo and six other homeowners fought for years, all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. In 2005, justices voted 5-4 against them, giving cities across the country the right to use eminent domain to take property for private development.

The decision was sharply criticized and created grassroots backlash. Forty states quickly passed new, protective rules and regulations, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Some protesters even tried to turn the tables on now-retired Justice David Souter, trying unsuccessfully in 2006 to take his New Hampshire home by eminent domain to build an inn.

In New London the city's prized economic development plan has fallen apart as the economy crumbled.

The Corcoran Jennison Cos., a Boston-based developer, had originally locked in exclusive rights to develop nearly the entire northern half of the Fort Trumbull peninsula.

But those rights expired in June 2008, despite multiple extensions, because the firm was unable to secure financing, according to President Marty Jones.

In July, backers halted fundraising for the project's crown jewel, a proposed $60 million, 60,000-square-foot Coast Guard museum.

The poor economy meant that donations weren't "keeping pace with expenses," said Coast Guard Foundation president Anne Brengle.

The group hopes to resume fundraising in the future, she said.

Overall, proponents say about two-thirds of the 90-acre site is developed, in part because of a 16-acre, $25 million state park. The other third of the land remains without the promised residential housing, office buildings, shops and hotel/conference center facility.

"If there had been no litigation, which took years to work its way through (the court system), then a substantial portion of this project would be constructed by now," said John Brooks, executive director of the New London Development Corp. "But we are victims of the economic cycle, and there is nothing we can do about that."

A new engineering tenant is moving into one of the office buildings at 1 Chelsea St., and a bio tech firm with as many as five employees is getting ready to move into an existing building on Howard Street, Brooks said.

Kelo, paid $442,000 by the state for her old property, now lives across the Thames River in Groton, in a white, two-bedroom 1950s bungalow. Her beloved pink house was sold for a dollar and moved less than two miles away, where a local preservationist has refurbished it.

Kelo can see her old neighborhood from her new home, but she finds the view too painful to bear.

"Everything is different, but everything is like still the same," said Kelo, who works two jobs and has largely maintained a low profile since moving away. "You still have life to deal with every day of the week. I just don't have eminent domain to deal with every day of the week, even after I ate, slept and breathed it for 10 years."

Although her side lost, Kelo said she sees the wider ramifications of her property rights battle.

"In the end it was seven of us who fought like wild animals to save what we had," she said. "I think that though we ultimately didn't win for ourselves, it has brought attention to what they did to us, and if it can make it better for some other people so they don't lose their homes to a Dunkin' Donuts or a Wal-Mart, I think we did some good."

Scott Bullock, senior attorney for the Institute for Justice, argued Kelo's case before the Supreme Court. He calls "massive changes that have happened in the law and in the public consciousness" the "real legacy" of Kelo and the other plaintiffs.

The empty land means the city won a "hollow victory," he said.

"What cities should take from this is to run fleeing from what New London did and do economic development that is market-driven and incorporate properties of folks who are truly committed to their neighborhood and simply want to be a part of what happens," he said.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Climate Change Summit

This morning I joined Gov. Perry and commissioners from the Texas Public Utility Commission, Railroad Commission and Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for a climate change summit.

Right now it is critical for us to take a stand. The current administration and some in Congress are pushing an environmental agenda that threatens the very livelihood of Texas farmers and ranchers. We must navigate this debate with a balanced approach enlightened by the reality that a clean environment and a strong economy can co-exist, and likely can benefit from one another. You can hear a small portion of my speech by clicking here or read the full text below.

Thank you, Gov. Perry for your leadership on this issue. I want to also say thank you to commissioners from the Texas Public Utility Commission, Railroad Commission and Texas Commission on Environmental Quality Texas Commission for Environmental Quality for holding this climate change summit today.

The American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (HR 2454) has been rightly called the Cap & Trade bill because if passed it will most assuredly cap economic activity, cap productivity and trade American jobs overseas.

In fact, it could have many names: it could be the
Pay More to Heat Your Home bill,
Pay More for the Food You Eat bill, or
Pay More for the Clothes You Wear bill.

At a time when Washington debates solutions for those without access to affordable healthcare in America, it contemplates this legislation, which will - if passed - add to the rolls of the uninsured.

How so? HR 2454 will add a new layer of uncertainty into the market place. It will, by the proponents’ own admission, increase the cost of energy and will be punitive not just to Texans, but to all Americans.

Uncertainty, volatility and lack of predictability freeze investment. In short, it costs jobs.

Cost of implementation of this legislation is all over the map. The most conservative estimates are from the bill sponsors, who say it will cost American families less than a postage stamp per day.

When did our country become so consumed with change that we have allowed our debate on policy to move from if it will cost, to who is right on how much it will cost?

Does anyone but me find it ironic they chose a postage stamp for a cost analogy? A stamp whose price tag has increased 144% since I graduated from high school in 1981. And, more importantly, the very future of our postal system is in doubt today.

American agriculture produces the safest, most affordable, most reliable food supply in the world.

HR 2454 threatens the ability for continued domestic food production.

The proponents’ own analysis says that total farm expenses could increase by $700 million each year. This is a far cry from the American Farm Bureau economists’ predictions that the bill will cost U.S. farmers approximately $5 billion in farm income each year by 2020, increasing to $13 billion annually by 2030.

They are not alone. The Pennsylvania Farm Bureau says the economics don’t add up for agriculture. They say this is akin to playing Russian roulette on energy issues. They say we are forfeiting America’s competitiveness.

I am proud of the fact that in Texas, agriculture contributes almost 9.5 percent of our GSP. Texas leads the nation in the production of cattle, cotton, sheep and goats, and is among the leading states in the production of citrus, vegetables, poultry products, sorghum, wheat and rice.

USDA claims agriculture can see net benefits in the long-term. Do you want me to tell you how they define long term? 2048! What will the price of a postage stamp be then?

Consumers might ask: How many farmers will even survive to the middle of this century?

The recently completed U.S. Census of Agriculture says the average age of the U.S. farmer has risen to age 57. Alarmingly, the number of farmers under age 25 has decreased by 30 percent since 2002.

The biggest factors blocking access to young people entering production agriculture are volatility and increased costs. Volatility and increased costs are the only two certain elements with this proposed climate change legislation.

Americans do not like being dependent on foreign oil. We cannot, and we must not, become dependent on foreign food.

From the House Committee on Energy and Commerce's Web site, the bill sponsors and advocates:

“Because of its balanced approach, the American Clean Energy and Security Act has received broad support from industry and environmentalists. Passage of the bill in the House was supported by electric utilities, oil companies, car companies, chemical companies, major manufacturers, environmental organizations, efficiency advocates, agricultural interests, labor organizations, and representatives of the faith community, among many others.”

I am a person of faith, and I’ll tell you what I believe: These guys just don’t get it.

An article from an American Farm Bureau publication points out, “Climate change supporters claim there will be droughts, floods, fire, loss of species, damage to agriculture, worsening air pollution and more, if the Senate does not pass the Climate Change bill.”

To draw from a recent Walter Williams article, “Are these the same people that in 1968 predicted there would be a major food shortage in the U.S., and in the 1970s, hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death.

“Or, in 1972, warned the world would run out of gold by 1981, mercury and silver by 1985, tin by 1987 and petroleum, copper, lead and natural gas by 1992.”

Either they are wrong or Texans are wrong. And we know Texans aren’t wrong. Here is how we know; it is supported by the facts. Let me tell you about the Texas experience.

In the last two years, if Texas were its own country, Texas had the highest GDP per person compared to the world’s largest economies. In a direct comparison of Texas with the U.S., U.K., Canada and France, Texas tops the charts at No. 1 in productivity per person.

Let me be perfectly clear: We must practice environmental stewardship. Agriculturalists are the original environmental stewards. Farmers know better than anyone you must take care of the land for it to take care of you.

In the words of our 34th President Dwight Eisenhower, “Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil, and you’re a thousand miles from the corn field.”
Maybe Congress should continue this debate in the cornfields of America.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Obesity Awareness Week: Genetics Not Solely To Blame for Obesity

The Texas Department of Agriculture's Chief Nutrition Coordinator, Paige Abernathy, will be guest blogging throughout Texas Obesity Awareness Week. Read her blog to find out interesting obesity facts, and tips on losing weight.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains that genetics can play a role in obesity; however, behavior can also affect a person's weight. It appears that having a certain combination of genes may make an individual more susceptible to being overweight or obese, and outside factors such as low levels of physical activity and an abundant food supply are required for the issue to be expressed.

Genetics do not control individual behavior. For more information on genetics and obesity visit the CDC Web site.

GO TEXAN in South Padre Island

South Padre Island is a real Texas treasure. I recognized the town, alongside Mayor Pro-Tem JoAnn Evans and other city officials, for two special accomplishments. First, I presented a certificate to the Town of South Padre Island in recognition of its designation as the 30th GO TEXAN Certified Retirement Community in the great State of Texas. Then, South Padre Island received an award for being one of only nine Hardworking Rural Community winners in Texas.

Growing up in rural Texas, I learned many things. Among the lessons was to make sure I “read the signs” as I navigated the East Texas Pineywoods. I was glad I remembered that lesson in South Padre Island where ties are prohibited. One speaker at the Texas Conference On Regionalism from Connecticut wasn’t so fortunate. I observed as a South Padre Island police officer gave him (and the jovial group of Texas leaders watching) the choice of going to jail or having his tie cut in half while he was wearing it! Needless to say, I know where you could probably get a good deal on two pieces of a tie for the price of one.


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Obesity Awareness Week: The Impact of Environment

The Texas Department of Agriculture's Chief Nutrition Coordinator, Paige Abernathy, will be guest blogging throughout Texas Obesity Awareness Week. Read her blog to find out interesting obesity facts, and tips on losing weight.

The environment you live in can make balancing your energy and diet easier or more difficult.

Things to look for to improve the balance between eating and exercising: sidewalks and streetlights that make walking in your neighborhood safer; grocery stores within walking or biking distance; worksite fitness facilities; restaurants that serve reasonable portion sizes; and schools that limit unhealthy choices. Request and support local policy that creates these types of environments.

For information on the nutrition standards for Texas schools visit the Healthy Living section of

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Obesity Awareness Week: Energy Imbalance

The Texas Department of Agriculture's Chief Nutrition Coordinator, Paige Abernathy, will be guest blogging throughout Texas Obesity Awareness Week. Read her blog to find out interesting obesity facts, and tips on losing weight.

An energy imbalance is simply consuming more calories than you expend through daily activity. To prevent obesity, you should be more physically active and monitor portions and calories.

If you eat more than usual one day, don’t forget to get in some extra exercise. It’s a balancing act that will pay off in the end. Try to keep your portion size down, and your exercise level up.

For individual nutrition recommendations and tips for the whole family visit

Texas Obesity Awareness Week 2009

The Texas Department of Agriculture's Chief Nutrition Coordinator, Paige Abernathy, will be guest blogging throughout Texas Obesity Awareness Week. Read her blog to find out interesting obesity facts, and tips on losing weight.

It’s Obesity Awareness week across Texas! This week will be dedicated to making a difference in the lives of all Texans. The number of overweight and obese Texans has been steadily growing over the past 20 years. Obesity can have a devastating impact on an individual, both physically and mentally, and on the community through the impact of health care costs and lost work productivity. Knowledge is power, and the better we all understand the obesity issue, the more chance we have at changing our fate.

Some Interesting Obesity Stats You Should Know
  • In 2007, nearly 66 percent of Texas adults were overweight or obese.
  • In 2007, 32 percent of Texas high-school students were overweight or obese.
  • If the current trends continue, 20 million or 75 percent of Texas adults will be overweight or obese by the year 2040, and the cost to Texas will quadruple from $10.5 billion today to as much as $39 billion by 2040.
  • According to the National Nutritional Health Survey, the prevalence of childhood obesity was greater in Texas in 2004-2005 than it was in the entire U.S. in 2003-2004. The overall prevalence of overweight and obesity in Texas schoolchildren was 42 percent for fourth-graders, 39 percent for eighth-graders and 36 percent for eleventh-graders in 2004-2005.
You can get more information on these stats here.

Check back throughout the week for weight loss and obesity prevention tips.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Bridging the education gap in agriculture and business

As Texas Agriculture Commissioner, my primary duty is to promote the interests of Texas agriculture producers. In these challenging economic times, finding new markets and new opportunities for our producers is crucial to our prosperity and success. As difficult as times may be, we still must take every opportunity available to assist those in greater need. One of those opportunities presented itself this morning.

Today, I met with Governor Clement Wani Konga of Central Equatoria, Southern Sudan and a group of Sudanese legislators. Sudan has a rich agriculture history that has been wiped out by nearly a half-century of civil war. As older generations were lost to violence, decades of agricultural experience and knowledge died with them. As I considered the knowledge of animal husbandry and crop production learned from my father, I quickly understood their plight. Without the practical education passed on from generation to generation of farmers and ranchers, Sudan faces a tough return to its once- vibrant agriculture industry.

Fortunately, progress is being made. There is great potential for Texas A&M and the University of Texas to partner with Sudan to help bridge the education gap in agriculture and business practices. I also offered the opportunity to partner with TDA in our International Exchange Program. This program offers opportunities for Texas farmers and ranchers to host an international student and pass along knowledge of agricultural production. We currently have an agreement in place with Mexico and are working to establish similar programs with Canada and Sudan. Initiatives like these will be integral in helping reinvigorate the agriculture industry in Sudan. If you are interested in participating in this important program, please contact Jason Fenton in our Austin office at (512) 936-0761.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

In Memoriam: Norman Borlaug 

Texas, America and the world have lost a great man. Norman Borlaug passed away late Saturday night in Dallas. He was 95. The man often referred to as "the father of the green revolution," planted many seeds in his life, which will continue to grow his legacy for generations to come.

Mr. Borlaug is credited with feeding millions of the world's hungry. In 1970, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his contributions to high-yield crop varieties and bringing other agricultural innovations to the developing nations.

The Borlaug Institute, based at Texas A&M, is renowned around the globe for its nation building and ability to strengthen agriculture practices through scientific training and research opportunities.

I was recently honored to see Mr. Borlaug’s vision first hand. Earlier this year, I traveled to Iraq with a team from the Borlaug Institute. Scientists are in the war-torn nation giving Iraqi farmers the knowledge and support to rebuild the agriculture infrastructure. I viewed how the Institute's mission, “peace cannot be built on empty stomachs,” truly is working. Farms that have not produced for decades are now beginning to yield a bounty that will one day feed the Iraqi people and help the nation stand on its on own feet.

Norman Borlaug created a better world, gave people hope and left us with a road map to continue his dream of feeding those who are starving. He will be missed, but now he has passed the baton and it is up to us to ensure we continue to cultivate the vision he planted.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Let us not ever forget September 11, 2001

History teaches us many things. As a child, I took a damp cloth to wipe off the outer soot that built up on our BBQ pit. The only problem - my Dad had burgers on the grill at the time and my hand sizzled on the burning metal like a patty on a grill. As painful as it was and remembering how my parents and I all wished we could have avoided that excruciating experience, the event created a memory that has served me well the rest of my life.

As Americans we all share a memory that will last us a lifetime as well - the attacks of September 11, 2001. These devastating memories still linger eight years after the innocence of our nation was lost, people perished, and survivors and families wept.

Resolve was the collective mood after seeing our fellow countrymen fall and jump from burning buildings. Resolve was the attitude as we watched in disbelief our Pentagon smolder in flames. Resolve was the spirit that embodied the passengers on board United Flight 93 who took down the terrorists that took over their plane. Resolve was what drove brave men and women into crumbling structures to risk their own lives so they could save others.

Let's honor these families who fought then for our freedom and who continue to fight today to protect America from such hatred. Let us not ever forget the memory of this day.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Texas Consumers Want to GO TEXAN

I am always excited to hear about a Texas business deciding to GO TEXAN. Our award-winning GO TEXAN marketing program not only promotes quality Texas products, but also helps local businesses boost their bottom lines.

This article posted on D Magazine’s food and wine blog, “Side Dish” reminded me of how important the GO TEXAN mark really is to Texas consumers. Whether stamped on a product’s package or branded on a banner or sign, the GO TEXAN mark represents the pride and hard work put into every Texas-grown or Texas-made product.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Tangible evidence the market responds

An East Texas friend of mine was pretty upset (most Texans get this way pretty quickly when the federal government tries to impose a mandate on them) when our federal government proposed to mandate a national animal identification system and when they mandated Country of Origin Labeling, referred to as COOL. My initial thought was this: if consumers want their food sources verified, they will demonstrate it through their buying preferences.

A recent article found in the on-line version of cattlenetwork provides tangible proof the market will respond without Washington imposing a costly and certainly burdensome system. Because of an international market demand and trade agreement with Japan, U.S. Premium Beef is offering an age and source verification premium on cattle. Notice the theme in the drivers behind that decision? Answer: the market.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

San Antonio Little Leaguers are Making Texas Proud

San Antonio McAllister Park American Little League won a playoff game in the Little League World Series last night on ESPN!

They are scheduled for the U.S. championship game this Saturday at 6 p.m. You can watch the game on ESPN2.

Congratulations to this fine group of athletes. GO TEXAN!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Face of Agriculture and Natural Resource in 2050

I began the day in Lubbock at the National Ranching Heritage Center speaking with faculty and staff from the Texas Tech College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources. The group is getting together for their annual retreat.

The topic I was asked to speak on was, "The Face of Agriculture and Natural Resource in 2050." Since we didn't have 30 days to talk about all that entails, I focused on the fantastic job Tech is doing to equip our youth and how we must address the competitive global marketplace if we are to ensure continued domestic food and fiber production.

Click here to listen to a short portion of the speech.

Texas is Making Preparations for the H1N1 Flu

Monday, I joined Gov. Perry and other state leaders in San Antonio for a press conference announcing the state’s preparedness plans for the anticipated H1N1 flu season. With most students going back to school this week, it is critical we are prepared for such a public health emergency.

More than 2 million Texas children rely on the school lunch program for their most important meal of the day. If schools are forced to close due to a serious health threat, many of these kids simply have nowhere else to turn and end up going without a meal. Earlier this year, when some school districts closed because of the H1N1 flu outbreak, 500,000 students were left without access to the meals normally provided by the school lunch program.

That’s why I contacted U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack asking him for a change in federal policy that would allow schools to be reimbursed for meals served during an H1N1 closure. We have received that change and are now working with Texas schools to develop plans for the continuation of meal service in non-congregate settings to ensure students are protected from illnesses. Here’s a video link to the press conference outlining our plans.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

In Memoriam: Elmer Kelton 

Texas is surely defined by its wide-open spaces, its varied landscape, array of natural resources and unique shape, but nothing defines Texas as do the men and women who call it home.

Award-winning novelist Elmer Kelton of San Angelo passed away Aug. 22, 2009 and our sympathy is extended to the entire Kelton family. While we know they grieve at the loss of their loved one, they should be comforted in knowing Texans, and all those who love western heritage, admire and respect Kelton for putting into words what so many of us feel.

Kelton’s work inspired many and will long live as a testament to the western way of life that built this land. Below are excerpts from a letter Lorie Woodward Cantu, a family friend, wrote shortly after Kelton’s death.

The following contains excerpts from a letter that I wrote, at the request of Mrs. Ann Kelton, to Dr. Don Graham, who is the J. Frank Dobie Professor of Literature at the University of Texas and a columnist for Texas Monthly.-- Lorie Woodward Cantu, August 22, 2009:

It is with great sadness that I’m writing to inform you of Elmer Kelton’s death. He passed away early this morning. Since early spring, he had battled the lingering effects of a prolonged bout of pneumonia and his health was further compromised by a serious blood disorder. At 83, his body just didn’t have the strength to bounce back.

As a fellow writer, I think you’ll be pleased to know that Mr. Elmer died with his boots on. Last night, in the assisted living facility surrounded by family and friends, he had his tablet and pen in hand and was fleshing out ideas for another novel centering on Hewey Calloway, the main character in The Good Old Boys. Despite the physical drain of his illness, Mr. Elmer continued to meet his deadlines and recently completed what is now his last novel, Texas Standoff. He was also overseeing the final publication details for Other Men’s Horses, which will be released on November 1.

His tireless work ethic is just one reflection of his character and his upbringing. Mr. Elmer was a child of the land, particularly the hardscrabble country that is West Texas. As the son of a ranch foreman, he knew the demanding life of agriculture as surely as he knew good cattle and well-trained horses. When Mr. Elmer told his father that he wanted to go to college and study to be a writer, his father responded, “Young people just don’t want to work anymore.”

The hard work, the unpredictable weather and the undying optimism of those people who struggled through the uncertainty informed Mr. Elmer’s work. He never bought into the idea that rural life and rural people were simple; instead, he recreated the multi-faceted, real-life characters that he encountered in his work as an agricultural journalist on the pages of his novels. Even though there were those who marginalized his work because Mr. Elmer chose the western genre as his creative medium, everyone can agree he was a keen-eyed observer who brought a time and a place to life.

Of course, in my opinion, The Time It Never Rained, transcends the limitations of a traditional western, With its themes of the environment (climate change/drought), race relations, the role of government in private life, loss and perseverance, the story could have been ripped from today’s headlines. As you know Mr. Elmer began working on the story when the big drought of the 1950s broke, but it wasn’t published until the early 1970s. He told me that it took him all those years “to get it right” and when he turned in the manuscript his editors did not make a single change.

He got it right, indeed. Charlie Flagg seems almost psychic when he observes, “There will be a day in this country when a barrel of water is worth more than a barrel of oil.” Because of the story’s relevance, it’s very appropriate that a group has acquired the film rights to the novel and is working to develop a feature film based on the story. Although his pen has been stilled, his voice is not silenced.

Although he is often considered a regional author, Mr. Elmer bridged the gap between mythic Texas and modern Texas.

In recent months, I’ve had the chance to work with him. The project has given me an opportunity to see just how important Mr. Elmer is to his fellow Texans. His list of “fans” include: Tommy Lee Jones, who used The Good Old Boys as the source material for his directorial debut; George Strait, who counts The Time It Never Rained and The Man Who Rode Midnight among his favorite books; Nolan Ryan, who is amassing a collection of Mr. Elmer’s first editions; Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who after learning about Mr. Elmer’s failing health sent her personal wishes just this past Thursday.

There are also innumerable state leaders in the agriculture industry who respect Mr. Elmer’s contributions, including: J. Mark McLaughlin of San Angelo, former president of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers; Pierce Miller of San Angelo, the Mohair Council of America and American Goat Federation; and Charles Schreiner IV of Kerrville, YO Ranch. Clayton Williams Jr. of Midland recently donated to the Elmer Kelton Statue Fund, which is a local effort to honor Mr. Elmer with a life-sized bronze that will be located in the new Tom Green County Library.

For more information about Mr. Elmer’s career, I’d suggest that you speak to Felton Cochran, a close friend of Mr. Elmer’s who also owns a local bookstore that specializes in Mr. Elmer’s work. He can be contacted at: Felton Cochran, c/o Cactus Book Shop, 6 East Concho, San Angelo, TX 76903; phone: (325) 659-3788 or . Mr. Cochran was with Mr. Elmer last night and I’ve included his comments below. Again, please forgive my presumptuousness. I’m a rancher’s daughter who admires Mr. Kelton’s gift for telling the story of the people of the land. He gave his best for us and bringing his contributions to your attention once again is the least that I can do to honor his memory.

Warmest regards,

Lorie Woodward Cantu

Comments by Felton Cochran

The evening before he passed, I had my last conversation with Elmer. We were at the rest home with his family present, and we discussed the evolution of his writing career. We talked about his earliest books published in paperback. He told how his first two novels were also issued in a very limited run of hardbacks mainly for library distribution. He mentioned he was paid about $1,500.00 for those novels, “good money for those days.” And we talked about when his first major hardback was published – The Day The Cowboys Quit, in 1972. He told us about his relationships with his three major publishers, Ballantine, Doubleday, and Forge Press. It was an engaging and enlightening conversation, with no hint of what was to come early the next morning.
Elmer Kelton, the man, was the quintessential “good old boy” who truly appreciated his many fans. He was always willing, even eager, to sign a stack of books for a fan.

Elmer Kelton, the writer, didn’t write westerns—he wrote western literature. When you opened a Kelton novel, you knew beforehand that it would be clean, historically accurate, and entertaining.

Regretfully, he didn’t live to see the life-size statue of him that will be placed in the new Tom Green County Library sometime next year. His last public appearance was at the “Toast to Elmer Kelton” held in May at the Fort Concho Commissary. At that event we presented him a miniature replica of the statue and a bronze bust. At least, he died knowing the statue was on its way to completion.

One of my life’s treasures is a signed copy of the book he had dedicated to me – Texas Vendetta. The dedication page of that book reads: “To Felton Cochran, bookseller extraordinaire.”

Felton Cochran-- 
San Angelo, Texas