Friday, July 31, 2009

FSA offers guaranteed loans

There’s no doubt the turbulent economy has impacted all business sectors, and the agriculture industry is no exception. Like most lenders these days, those who work with Texas farmers and ranchers also are limited in their ability to offer financing. Fortunately, there’s another option for the agriculture community.

USDA has a lending assistance program that gives both lenders and farmers a chance to acquire security in borrowing money. The Farm Service Agency (FSA), a branch of USDA, is offering farm loan guarantees that are beneficial for farmers and ranchers who do not qualify for loans in their communities due to minimal cash flow, limited experience or minimal equity.

It’s a win for both the lenders and producers. Lending institutions will have security in issuing these loans to farmers and ranchers, and producers will get the funds they need to continue farming and ranching operations that are critical to the food and fiber supply of all Texans.

Starting this month, FSA is holding workshops for lenders to learn more about the Guaranteed Loan Program. These sessions will offer pertinent information for lenders to implement these loans in their institutions, so make sure to tell your lender about them. There are four more information sessions this year:

August 23 – 24, Mesquite, TX
November 17 – 18, Lubbock, TX
October 6 -7, College Station, TX
December 8 - 9, College Station, TX

For more information, contact your local Farm Service Agency county office here.

Landowners in drought and disaster areas given priority for GRP funds

As a result of extreme drought conditions plaguing central and south Texas, USDA is giving priority consideration to landowners in that area for participation in the Grassland Reserve Program (GRP).

According to the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), this program is designed to restore and conserve grasslands to ensure future forage for grazing. Through rental agreements and easements, ranchers can receive payments for conserving and protecting grasslands. The GRP priority areas also include areas devastated by Hurricane Ike and wildfires.

Ranchers interested in this program should contact Claude Ross, state GRP manager, at (254) 742-9822 or Mark Habiger, NRCS assistant state conservationist for programs, at (254) 742-9881.

Visit NRCS for additional information on the program. This program won’t solve everyone’s problems, but every little bit helps. And I appreciate our state conservationist, Don Gohmert, for his leadership on getting this program underway in Texas. In the meantime I will continue seeking additional emergency assistance for Texas producers. To see previous requests I have submitted to our federal partners for such assistance, click here.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

A nice visit with Red Steagall

Country legend Red Steagall visited Austin this week and I had the wonderful opportunity to sit down with him to do an interview for his show, Cowboy Corner.

Red is a strong advocate for preserving the heritage of the Lone Star State and the cowboy lifestyle. We talked about the role of agriculture as the backbone of the economy and how important it is we continue to utilize our natural resources to their fullest extent.

We spoke of the importance of using science and technology to allow profitability for American agriculture and how the number of farmers and ranchers continues to dwindle. We also talked about how we need to ensure that we have a sound, affordable and reliable domestic food supply and how critical that is to the survivability of our nation.

Red has been a great friend to us here at TDA and we appreciate his on-going support of Texas agriculture. I will let everyone know when the conversation is scheduled to air.

A special thanks to all TDA interns

Have you ever had anyone give you an opportunity in your life? Most likely we all have had others give us a chance to expand our horizons, broaden our viewpoints and sharpen our skills.

Others can certainly open the door, but then each of us has to choose to walk through it and take advantage of the occasion. I am proud to say the interns here at the Texas Department of Agriculture have contributed greatly this summer and combined work and learning at the same time. I hope they benefited as much as the taxpayers have from their efforts.

This term, we had 20 bright and motivated students who participated in our summer internship program, which placed them in 11 different divisions. I hosted a luncheon for them this week where Deputy Commissioner Drew DeBerry and Chief of Staff Shannon Rusing and I were able to hear about their experiences here, as well as their plans for the future. I appreciate all of the effort our Benefits Coordinator, Jada Louhela, has put forth in coordinating this program for TDA.

Farmers and ranchers certainly understand the value of planning for the future. I look forward to the contributions each of these students will provide to Texas agriculture in the many years ahead of them.

CNN News Coverage on Texas Drought

On Wednesday, I told you about the national news descending on Texas to tell the story of the devastating drought of 2009. Here is a report from CNN, they are scheduled to run a longer story Saturday evening.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Texas drought getting national attention

National media have finally joined state and local newscasts in covering the continuing drought that’s suffocating much of the Lone Star State. FOX, CNN and the Wall Street Journal have all contacted us at the Texas Department of Agriculture to comment on these extreme conditions.

The questions have generally been the same – how bad is it? And our response is simple – the Texas drought is having a devastating impact on agriculture, and could soon impact all Americans. With Texas leading the nation in the production of cattle, cotton, sheep, goats, hay and many other of life’s necessities, our state problem has now become a national concern. And that’s why I believe it’s important to remind the rest of the nation of the exceptionally difficult circumstances our farmers and ranchers are facing, and that what happens to them will affect the entire nation.

Texas water consumers are also suffering. To date, 230 public water systems have imposed mandatory water restrictions, including those located in major cities such as Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and Austin. The dry conditions have become so severe in Liberty Hill (a Central Texas town) that residents there have been told not to water at all, for fear that they may not have enough water to drink.

The drought monitor indicates that 16.5 percent of Texas is considered “exceptional” – the worst category for drought. Just think, we have about 170 million acres in Texas, and this means the land area in this most critical stage is roughly 28 million acres. Folks, that is larger than the states of Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware, Rhode Island and the District of Columbia combined!

Again, the situation here in Texas is dire, and that’s why I’ve called on our federal partners to provide our producers with some very much-needed permanent disaster programs, which were passed in the 2008 Farm Bill and have not yet been fully implemented. I’ve also requested the use of Conservation Reserve Program lands for emergency grazing and haying.

Indeed, times are tough, but thank goodness, so are Texans.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Stephen F. Austin State University Early Childhood Research Center Dedication

It was a busy weekend as Stephen F. Austin State University dedicated its one-of-a-kind Early Childhood Research Center Sunday afternoon. It is a significant part of the James I. Perkins College of Education and serves as home to research, teaching and a charter school.

This grand opening reaffirms and magnifies SFASU's role as a statewide and national leader in higher education. The results of research and applying the outcomes will benefit students and teachers alike.

As State Senator for Senate District 3 in 2005, I enjoyed working on this terrific project, and I was delighted to join in the celebration. No doubt, the work done here by Dr. Janice Pattillo and her team will help teachers develop critical skills to educate our young students.

Go Lumberjacks!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Leon County 4-H Council Visits TDA

Texas is fortunate to have many youth leadership and development programs, and 4-H is certainly one of the best. This week, a group of 4-H'ers from Leon County stopped by my office with their extension agents, Wendy and Tommy Neyland, as well as Leon County Judge Byron Ryder.

I represented Leon County when I first became a state representative back in 1995,and that’s when I first worked with Tommy Neyland, an FFA teacher during those days, and with Judge Ryder who was then Mayor of Buffalo. It is so good to see today’s leaders investing in their young people to cultivate leaders for the future.

Texas will be in good hands as these young students become adult leaders themselves.

Visit to the Faria East Dairy in the Texas Panhandle

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to visit one of the most technologically advanced dairies in the Lone Star State. The Faria East Dairy in Dumas is a great example of Texan ingenuity.

The dairy is the largest cross-ventilation dairy in the state. That means that all the cows live inside a 12-acre barn in 75-degree weather, regardless of the outdoor temperature.

The cows also wear pedometers that monitor their steps every day. These pedometers are not part of an exercise program! You see, if a cow is taking significantly more steps than normal, it is an indicator there is something that needs attention. For example, if she takes fewer steps than normal, it’s likely she’s sick. The use of this type of technology factors into improved milk quality and quantity, both of which are a win for the consumer.

Seven thousand cows are milked everyday at the dairy, with the potential for more. More than 100 cows can be milked at once on what is reported to be the largest rotating circular platform. None of that milk ever gets stored in any tanks; it just gets sent less than 40 miles down the road, directly to the Hilmar Cheese Company, a GO TEXAN member in Dalhart. Now that’s what I call fresh Texas cheese!

So next time you are at the grocery store, be sure to support Texas ag producers by purchasing some of the best products your hard-earned money can buy.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Young cattle producers learn leadership

The National Junior Limousin Show is being held in Amarillo this week bringing youth and their families from 21 states to the Texas Panhandle.

I joined state Rep. David Swinford and Amarillo Mayor Debra McCartt on Tuesday night to welcome the dynamic bunch to Texas.

Through showing, sportsmanship and quiz competition, these young Americans are learning responsibility and entrepreneurship.

I really enjoyed the opportunity to meet and greet the group of Texans who were all decked out in their camouflage T-shirts.

I appreciate all the Texans who worked tirelessly to host a terrific national show. No doubt, their efforts provided a great opportunity for these young Americans and was a big boost to the Amarillo economy.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The best burger – Texas has something else to brag about

In case you missed it, the TODAY show recently hosted a “battle of the burgers” between three chefs – Aaron McCargo from New Jersey and host of Big Daddy’s House on the Food Network; Adam Rather from Maryland and co-owner of Mother’s Federal Hill Grille; and Tom Perini from Buffalo Gap, Texas and owner of Perini Ranch Steakhouse. We are proud to say that Perini’s burger left the TODAY show judges wanting more, taking the top spot and beating the chefs from the east coast.

Thanks, Tom, for using your skills to remind the world the best can be found in Texas. It’s folks like Tom and his wife Lisa who make me proud to be Texan. They run a great restaurant in Buffalo Gap and Lisa is the Vice President of the Texas Restaurant Association, an organization that Tom was president of in 1998.

From Buffalo Gap to the White House to Moscow, and now the Today Show champion, Tom Perini continues to put Texas on the map.

You can watch the segment here:

Monday, July 13, 2009

Texas Wine Industry Continues to Grow

The 2009 grape harvest season is officially underway. To mark the occasion, the Haak Family and Haak Vineyard & Winery staff in Santa Fe, Texas hosted a weekend grape harvest event and were joined by several other Texas wineries including Circle S Vineyards, Enoch's Stomp Vineyard and Winery, Flat Creek Estate, Llano Estacado Winery and Maydelle Country Wines. These participating wineries showcased some of the best wines in Texas and helped kick off and celebrate the 2009 harvest season.

The Texas wine industry truly is a growing business. In fact, an economic study spearheaded by the Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association and Texas Tech University indicates this agriculture sector impacts the Texas economy to the tune of $1.35 billion dollars per year. It also draws nearly 1 million tourists and visitors to our wineries, and employs more than 9,000 Texans. Texas is the fifth-leading wine-producing state in the nation and seeing the potential of our state, I know it's only a matter of time before our ranking climbs even higher.

To learn more about the Texas Wine Industry, please visit

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Meeting with Future Ag Leaders at 81st Texas FFA Convention

Over 11,500 high school students gathered in Dallas this past week for the 81st Texas FFA Convention. There was a great deal of excitement as scholarships were awarded and a new president was elected from the new officer team.

Congratulations to Allison Grainger from Brenham High and Area 3, as she leads the 62,000 strong youth organization, which has 980 active chapters across the Lone Star State.

I am thankful for the many Texas businesses that sponsored the event. Jim Prewitt of Landmark Nurseries headed up the outstanding Dallas Host Committee.

It was an honor to address these fine young Texans who represent the best and brightest of our state. Be sure to thank their Ag Science teachers the next time you have a chance. These dedicated men and women work year-round to bring out the best in their students. I sure owe a lot to mine.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Finally, Texas gets a LITTLE love from Washington

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced on Wednesday that nearly $66.4 million worth of community projects are being funded in 33 states across the nation, and Texas is one of them. However, Texas' share is not rising to a level appropriate considering the vast rural areas of this state.

The funding is part of the Rural Development Community Facilities program which helps provide dollars for essential community facilities for public use in rural areas. Considering a funding amount of $66.4 million, the average on a straight division among all 50 states is $1.3 million. But consider the size of Texas relative to the other 49 states and you come up with a much higher number. Texas got $549,000.

This will help nine Texas communities and I am grateful for this. But I hope our partners at the federal level can start to realize the breadth of Texas. To see how much each community received, click here.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

More progress still needed with U.S./ Japan beef trade

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk announced this week the result of an annual trade review with Japan, and there was significant progress made in several areas important to agriculture – except beef trade.

Agreements were reached on several issues like pesticide residue limits and use of substances on organic products. While this progress is important in opening potential markets for Texas producers, we must continue to make progress in the push to fully re-open the Japanese market to U.S. beef products.

Prior to 2004, U.S. beef exports to Japan totaled nearly 1 billion pounds. In response to the discovery of BSE in a Canadian-born cow found in a U.S. herd, Japan closed its market to American beef, and still five years later, U.S. exports have only recovered 23 percent of the market share they had less than a decade ago.

I know trade talks can be tough, but I also know persistence pays off. Such was the case with Mexico, a country that cut-off live U.S. beef cattle exports for four years. After persistence and continuous communication, we were successful in resuming trade, and U.S. cattlemen regained access to a market worth more than $86 million in U.S. sales, with a total economic impact in excess of $400 million.

I look forward to hearing positive news resulting from future negotiations between Ambassador Kirk and Japan, and look forward to the day when this important market is fully re-opened to American beef products.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Creating Partnerships for the I-35 Green Corridor Initiative

Partners for Progress is our theme at the Texas Department of Agriculture. We use this theme to guide us in creating partnerships to accomplish more with less, and provide greater opportunities for the Lone Star State. The good news is partnerships are developing all across Texas that will result in jobs for Texans, better use of our resources and a healthier economy.

Five of our higher education institutions recently announced an I-35 Green Corridor Initiative. The Austin Community College District, Dallas County Community College District, the Alamo Colleges, Temple College and the Texas State Technical College System “signed an agreement in Austin with two key objectives in mind: putting Texans to work in emerging green economy careers and attracting federal stimulus dollars to the region.”

According to published reports, “the five institutions will share their expertise, experience and resources in order to create a collaborative approach to workforce training for high-demand green economy fields. The Green Corridor Collaborative will apply for federal stimulus money earmarked for renewable energy development.”

Taxpayers should contact these institutions to say thank you for working together and bringing results through efficiencies. We all benefit by using what is already developed from a capable partner rather than reinventing the wheel. We need more partnerships like these at all levels of government that will result in the most efficient use of taxpayer dollars. Congratulations and best wishes to the leadership of these institutions of higher learning.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Celebrating Independence Day

As our nation celebrates Independence Day this July 4th, let's remember it was independence, not dependence, that made our nation great.

With unemployment rates the highest our nation has seen in decades and uncertainty on the horizon, we must never forget strength, growth and independence came from hard work and a desire to live free from unfair and over-burdensome government.

Each generation must keep alive the ability for the next to achieve bigger and bolder dreams. This July 4th, we should spend some thoughtful reflection as to the legacy we are leaving the next generation of Americans and if we are elevating their opportunities and our nation.

We should thank God for the blessings He has given and ask for wisdom to preserve them for those that follow.

"Liberty is dearly bought, continually paid for, and difficult to keep." From a book by E. C. McKenzie - author unknown.
As you and your family enjoy the grand 4th of July festivities and fireworks shows, remember independence rests on all of our shoulders. God Bless America and the great State of Texas.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Disaster Programs One Step Closer to Reality

Remember how we worked so hard to get permanent federal agriculture disaster programs created in the 2008 Farm Bill? Remember how we won that fight through coordinated efforts? Well, USDA is finally getting the programs moving. Today, they released eligibility rules for five new disaster programs. These programs will provide much-needed assistance to producers across America. The programs are the Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP), the Livestock Forage Disaster Program (LFP), the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees, and Farm-Raised Fish (ELAP), the Supplemental Revenue Assistance Program (SURE), and the Tree Assistance Program (TAP).

This news does not mean the programs are available for producers to access right now, however. I was told as recently as March not to expect these programs until Christmas. USDA is indicating that LIP applications should be available in July. In the meantime, eligible livestock owners should begin gathering the documentation needed to verify their losses. Veterinary reports, insurance records, and renderer receipts are just a few examples of qualifying documentation. Go to USDA’s Web site here for more information (I also encourage producers to contact their county FSA offices for further information).