Saturday, May 30, 2009

Supplemental Budget Bill Passes

HB 4586, the supplemental budget bill authored by Representatives Jim Pitts and Craig Eiland and sponsored by Senator Steve Ogden, has passed both chambers and now heads to the Governor for his signature.

The legislation carries important funding for Texas producers and rural communities. Of note is $20 million for the Texas Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation. The money will address critical set backs caused by Hurricanes Ike and Dolly. Texas is the number one cotton producing state in the nation and it's imperative we protect our cotton growers from pests such as the boll weevil.

The supplemental bill will also assist in attracting veterinarians to our rural communities. Right now, Texas is suffering from a major shortage of large animal vets. The Office of Rural Community Affairs has been allocated $500,000 for the Rural Veterinarian Large Animal Loan Repayment Program. The program will address large animal veterinarian needs in rural Texas. The program would require large animal vets to practice in a rural area as a condition for repayment of veterinary school loans.

Our state representatives and senators have put in long hours to come up with legislation that will make Texas a better place to live, work and raise a family. I want to thank them for their patience and continued commmitment to the Lone Star State.

Friday, May 29, 2009

General Appropriations Bill for State Budget on its way to Governor

With three days left in the legislative session, the House and Senate are feverishly working to complete their work. Senate Bill 1, the General Appropriations Act, the state’s operating budget, is now on its way to Governor Perry’s desk to be signed into law. The approved appropriations for the state’s 2010-11 budget totaled $182.3 billion.

Included in Senate Bill 1 is $882 million for TDA, which includes new or increased funding for TDA’s consumer protection responsibilities, the Certified Retirement Community Program, Organic Certification and Grain Warehouse Programs. SB 1 includes continued funding for several programs such as Boll Weevil Eradication, Food and Fibers Research Grant Program, child and adult nutrition programs, road station inspections, feral hog abatement and Zebra Chip research.

The SB 1 funding will enhance TDA’s consumer protection initiatives, as well as ensure Texas has the resources in place to help protect our agricultural producers and industry from inevitable disease and disaster they are forced to contend with each and every year. It will also assist in our continuing efforts to make sure Texas children understand the importance of the 3E's of Healthy Living: Education, Exercise and Eating Right.

The bill appropriates funding to other state agencies that will greatly benefit Texas agricultural producers. The Texas Animal Health Commission will receive funding for the Fever Tick Initiative to protect Texas cattle. Texas AgriLife Extension’s Texas Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory has been appropriated additional funding, and the Texas Forest Service’s Wildfire Protection Plan was funded.

I want to extend my personal thanks to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Steve Ogden and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Pitts for their hard work and leadership in crafting the budget for our state. My sincere appreciation also goes out to Lt. Governor David Dewhurst and Speaker Joe Straus for their dedication to making sure the priorities of the Texas Department of Agriculture and Texans were considered. These state leaders always had a listening ear when we worked with them and their dedicated staff to ensure Texas agriculture has the resouces it needs to tackle the next two years.

Fair Trade is Key to Texas' Success

It appears Texas producers and Mexican consumers will both face some difficulties as a result of the Mexican government's decision yesterday to conduct inspections on 100 percent of U.S. meat shipments. This unnecessary action will certainly slow commerce of Texas meat products. It also has the potential to result in unwarranted rejections at the border and possibly even delisting meat plants from being able to ship products to Mexico.

As if the drought, depressed prices, high input costs and a hurricane were not enough, Texas cattle producers now have this trade barrier to contend with - one more weight hanging around their necks that impacts profitability. As the largest cattle producing and cattle feeding state in the nation, we stand more to lose over this new hurdle than anyone else. Last year when we were able to reopen the Mexican border to live cattle trade after a four-year closure, I thought we were back on track; but now this.

Without a doubt, the actions by Washington earlier this year to unilaterally alter a trilateral agreement (the cancellation of a cross-border program that gave Mexican trucks access to American highways) led to unnecessary trade tariffs being implemented on American goods by Mexico. It is clear that when political science replaces sound science, we all suffer.

The bottom line is Texas and American food products are the safest in the world and they go through more food safety assurance checks than most other countries, yet these products are being held to standards higher than anyone else in the world for absolutely no scientific reason. Trade decisions must be based on sound policy - not politics.

Consumer Protection bill heads to Governor's desk

The House and Senate have passed HB 2925 by Rep. Herrero and Sen. Whitmire. The bill now heads to the Governor’s desk for his signature.

This important piece of legislation will strengthen the Texas Department of Agriculture’s consumer protection efforts. When the bill becomes law, TDA inspectors will begin testing fuel quality. Up until now, no state agency has been checking to see if gas and diesel were meeting national standards or if the fuel is contaminated with water. Equally concerning, no consumer had a state agency to call if they felt there were fuel quality issues.

Also, fuel pumps at stations across Texas will have more oversight to make sure when drivers pump a gallon of gasoline, they receive a full gallon. An important note, approximately 95 percent of fuel pumps in the Lone Star State are accurate. HB 2925 will give the TDA the tools to begin more risk-based oversight of Texas fuel stations. One Texan cheated is one too many, so with high rates of compliance inspectors can NOW focus on the small number of bad actors and hold them accountable.

We look forward to implementing these new rules and reaching out to Texans so they understand the new protections and how they can assist us in making sure they receive exactly what they pay for at the pump.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

TDA gives urban students a rural experience

On Wednesday morning, I met with a group of students who have been selected to be the first participants in TDA’s new Texas Rural Internship Program. The program, which officially starts on June 1, will provide much needed connectivity between urban and rural Texas, and help develop some of today’s talented college students into tomorrow’s leaders.

Rural Texas faces many challenges and we must be proactive in developing leadership and finding solutions to the dilemmas facing our communities that in many cases preserve the heritage of this great state. Job growth, community planning and relationships between rural, suburban and urban Texas are essential to the future prosperity of the Lone Star State.

We are grateful to Dr. Gene Theodori, director for the Center for Rural Studies at Sam Houston State University, who helped us spearhead this unique internship project giving the following six SHSU students an outstanding opportunity in rural Texas:

Left to right: Raven Payour, Katie Goodwin, Lauren Robinson, Mercadi Crawford, Mercy Lane and Brittany Dennis.

The communities taking part in the internship program are Brady, Hamilton, Levelland, San Juan and Van Horn. The Texas Rural Internship Program is a pilot initiative this year; our goal is to expand the program to serve more students and rural communities in 2010.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Not your typical highway

Your town may soon have a new highway running through it – but don’t worry; this isn’t your typical highway. We’re talking about an information superhighway.

Today, the FCC released a report detailing a plan that provides the foundation for policy development that will assist in the delivery of broadband services to rural America.

Earlier this month, we announced an effort here at TDA to help map Texas for broadband service availability. Once the state is mapped, we can better determine which areas need high-speed Internet services.

I applaud our federal partners for taking a great first step in connecting rural communities to the tools they need to enhance economic development and assist with their area’s future prosperity.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

TDA Sunset Bill heads to Gov's desk

Early Tuesday morning around 12:20 a.m., the Texas Senate concurred on House amendments to the TDA Sunset Bill, Senate Bill 1016. Now the bill is headed to the Governor's desk for signing. Senator Craig Estes and Representative Dan Flynn sponsored the bill, which ensures TDA will serve the state of Texas for 12 more years. Many thanks to all senators and house members for their hard work in making sure TDA has the tools it needs to continue working on behalf of Texas agriculture.

Today is the last day for the Texas House to consider Senate bills on second reading. It should be a very busy day.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Memorial Day 2009

Each generation has a duty--a responsibility that is the price tag for what we have inherited. 

Since 1776, American armed forces have responded to the call of freedom that has resulted in securing the blessings and liberties we enjoy today. 

This Memorial Day, all Americans have a civic responsibility to honor the memories of the brave men and women who have paid the ultimate price.

From Yorktown to Pearl Harbor and from Saigon to Baghdad our sons and daughters have proudly worn the uniform of the United States of America and bravely carried the torch of patriotism forward. May God bless and keep them and their families.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Recent rains help, but drought conditions persist

No matter the season, weather is on the minds of our state’s farmers and ranchers. Why? Because it affects profitability. In some cases, weather conditions can determine whether families will be able to stay in the business of farming and ranching.

According to the U. S. Drought Monitor for Texas released on May 21, much of our state remains in the category labeled “Abnormally Dry to Exceptionally Dry.” And, although much of the state received some badly needed moisture last week, many communities will have to deal with the consequences of this lingering drought for some time.

Here at the Texas Department of Agriculture, we’d like to remind producers of the resources available on our Web site, Visit to access the Hay Hotline (1-877-429-1998) for hay needs and the Disaster Resource Information Packet, which provides pertinent contact information for state, federal and private agricultural disaster assistance programs.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

TDA Sunset Bill Unanimously Passes in the House with Amendments

Senate Bill 1016, the Sunset Bill for the Texas Department of Agriculture, was unanimously passed by the full house Thursday. For TDA, this bill means the agency will continue to serve Texans for 12 more years. Nineteen amendments were considered on second reading Wednesday, with many being adopted. We are reading through each of the amendments to determine their impact on Texas agriculture.

I want to thank the dedicated house members who spent a considerable amount of time ensuring that Texas agriculture has the tools it needs for continued prosperity for the next 12 years. The bill will now head back to the Senate where members will determine if they will accept the House amendments, or move to go to conference committee. We will keep you posted.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Listening session on Animal ID System held in Austin

Let your voice be heard! In Austin, on Wednesday, May 20, USDA will host a listening session to gather public opinion on the future of animal identification and traceability in the United States.

The animal ID system is designed to enable producers and animal health officials to respond quickly to disease outbreaks. The system is created to pinpoint the source of disease within 48 hours, contain its spread and track infected animals. Read more about it here.

According to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, even after a five-year effort to create the animal identification system, many producers are still uneasy with the program because of additional costs related to the new system and what they believe is government infringement on their operations.

Keep in mind, USDA could act on this issue very soon, so don’t miss the chance to voice your thoughts. The session runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. this Wednesday at the Embassy Suites Hotel, located at 5901 N IH-35, in Ballrooms C, D, and E. For more information on the public feedback sessions, click here.

TDA Continues to Monitor Gas Pumps to Protect Consumers

The Texas Department of Agriculture is committed to protecting Texas drivers from fraudulent business practices. Every summer it seems fuel prices increase, and consumers can be certain our TDA inspectors are looking for any station that may be shortchanging motorists at the pump. Gas prices are high enough, you should always get exactly what you pay for. The Austin American-Statesman has a story about our efforts on its Web site. You can read it HERE.

Friday, May 15, 2009

More work to be done on U.S./EU beef trade

On Wednesday, the U.S. signed an agreement with the European Union to increase the amount of high-quality beef exports from cattle that are free of growth-promoting hormones. The new protocol will allow an extra 20,000 metric tons of beef, duty-free, and increase to 45,000 metric tons after three years.

While everyone recognizes the benefits of increased trade opportunities, we must also acknowledge that the best trade policies are ones based on sound science – not political science.

For almost 20 years, the EU has imposed trade barriers on U.S. beef citing that beef from cattle treated with growth hormones is a health hazard, regardless of the fact that the Food and Drug Administration, through scientific testing, has deemed these hormones to be safe.

While I appreciate the work that has been done in enhancing current beef trade, I hope these actions are indications of forthcoming progress that will ultimately result in scientifically based trade parameters.

Thursday, May 14, 2009


Promoting Texas products is always easy to do, but it makes it easier when major restaurants use more of the products grown by Texas farmers and ranchers. I had the opportunity to address McDonald’s restaurant owners from all over Texas on Wednesday and learned they purchased $71 million worth of Texas agricultural products last year. Being the largest cattle-producing state in the nation, it’s also great to hear that McDonald’s is the largest buyer of beef in the nation.

At the Texas Department of Agriculture we are working with restaurants all over the state to become GO TEXAN restaurant members. The GO TEXAN Restaurant Program connects restaurants with local farmers and ranchers so that Texas-grown products can be served to diners.

More and more consumers want to purchase local products, and we are excited about the opportunity this provides for the Texas agriculture community. A recent article in The New York Times highlighted efforts by Frito-Lay, headquartered in Plano, to purchase local products. I personally know Frito-Lay is very interested in the Texas potato market, and as a result, the company has been a leader in helping us find solutions to challenges facing Texas potato farmers.

Creating partnerships with Texas farmers, restaurants and companies makes sense. It ensures not only that we have access to quality food, but keeps dollars and jobs right here in the Lone Star State.

Remember GO Out. GO Eat. GO TEXAN.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Eminent domain reform key to protecting property owners' rights

Tuesday at the Dallas Real Estate Symposium, I spoke to a group of real estate professionals affiliated with the North Texas Chapter of the Appraisal Institute. The daylong seminar included discussions by real estate professionals from throughout Texas with a great deal of knowledge about the current real estate market and its impact on our state’s economy.

One panelist testified that on many commercial properties he has been appraising, the debt on the property exceeds the value in some markets by two-to-one! The good news is that these professionals are analyzing this data to help Texans make smart decisions and turn our economy around.

My remarks focused on promoting Texas agriculture and the importance of protecting property owners’ rights. The underlying value of real estate is bolstered by the ability to use and hold property to its fullest extent.

Currently, the Texas Legislature is considering key eminent domain reform legislation that has passed the Senate and is currently in the House. For more information about Senate Bill 18, authored by Sen. Craig Estes, or more views on property owners’ rights, read my Private Property Owners’ Bill of Rights. You can find out more about SB 18 here.

The Texas Farm Bureau’s Web site also has a special section devoted to eminent domain reform in Texas with informational videos, news stories and other helpful links. TFB has held many meetings and worked tirelessly throughout the past legislative interim to help bring about needed reform.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Livestock theft penalties to be increased in Texas

Critically needed legislation (Senate Bill 1163, authored by Sen. Kel Seliger) to protect the largest cattle, horse, sheep and goat-producing state in the nation has passed both chambers of the legislature and is headed to Governor Perry's desk.

Stealing livestock and fowl undermines the livelihood of Texas ranchers and farmers, and enhancing the penalty for theft should help protect the families whose businesses are so important to our state's economy. This is yet another reminder – Don’t Mess with Texas.

The Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association was an early and strong advocate for the legislation. Click here to access a link to the TSCRA press release on the bill's passage.

TDA’s Sunset Bill moves forward, minus key economic development tool

The Texas Department of Agriculture’s Sunset Bill, Senate Bill 1016, was favorably approved in the House Committee on Agriculture and Livestock. This legislation will give TDA critically needed tools to continue serving the people of Texas.

One notable provision stripped from the senate version of the bill is the Texas Rural Investment Fund (TRIF). TRIF was designed in response to needs identified by Texas economic development professionals, in conjunction with our internal review and Sunset process, to ensure TDA had the additional tools necessary to promote job growth and capital investment in rural Texas. Economic development professionals from around Texas testified in support of this critical tool.

Senate Bill 1016, without this key provision to promote job growth, will be sent to the Committee on Calendars where it should be scheduled for a floor vote soon.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Friday, May 1, 2009

81st Texas Legislature Enters Final Stretch

With a little more than 31 days left in the legislative session, much work remains.

The conference committee on Senate Bill 1, the general appropriations bill for the state’s operating budget, will begin meeting regularly on Monday, May 4 at 8 a.m. The Senate version of the state’s budget totaled $182.2 billion, and the House version totaled $177.4 billion. Much work will need to be done in order to reconcile the two versions.

Also, the Texas Department of Agriculture Sunset Bill is currently in the House Committee on Agriculture and Livestock. Every state agency goes through the Sunset process to update programs and policies to properly serve the public. Most issues have been worked out, and all stakeholders appear supportive of the provisions in the Sunset bill. I have been working with the members of the House Ag Committee, and I look forward to it moving forward soon.

This 81st session has proven to be interesting. To date 7,144 bills have been introduced, but as of April 30, only 10 have been passed and sent to the Governor.

Stay tuned, the final month of the 81st Legislature should be full of excitement.