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

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Editorial: Alternatives Touted For Student Success

Below is an editorial published yesterday in the Tyler Morning Telegraph supporting my push for Parallel Pathways to Success.

Tyler Morning Telegraph
Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2009

Alternatives Touted For Student Success

If there's a lesson to be learned in today's economy, it's that there's not just one path to success -- or to security.

Many of those out of work today can boast college degrees and advanced qualifications, while many skilled workers know their jobs and their futures are relatively safe.

That's why a new program from the Texas Department of Agriculture deserves such high marks. The Parallel Pathways to Success Pilot Grant Program is designed to fund projects in rural Texas communities that give students the opportunity to earn workforce skills and training, and earn college credit prior to graduation.

"With 46 percent of high school graduates choosing not to pursue a college education annually in Texas, we must present another route -- a parallel pathway -- to the workforce," says Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples. "Life is not about equal outcomes; it's about equal opportunities. Parallel Pathways to Success is a win-win strategy giving students real-life workforce training and sending a signal to entrepreneurs and investors that Texas is serious about providing them a talented workforce."

High schools will partner with local businesses to provide training to students.

Throughout the recession, one employment fact has remained constant: Texas needs skilled workers, and it will soon need many, many more.

As the 'baby boom generation" nears retirement, who will take these experienced workers' place in the workforce?" Texas Workforce Commission Chairman Tom Pauken asked.

He notes that by the end of the decade, an estimated 40 percent of the workforce will have retired or be eligible to do so. That could soon lead to a critical situation.

"Boomer retirements are not the whole explanation for the skilled worker shortage the United States faces, but that shortage suggests how worse matters can get without major rethinking of how we train today's students for tomorrow's jobs," Pauken said. "Employers are already facing the reality of job vacancies not easy to fill with workers whose skills are comparable to those of the men and women their generation is replacing."

That includes welders, pipe fitters and skilled workers in many other trades.

Pauken contends there is a "relative lack of emphasis in U.S. secondary schools on development of workplace skills as opposed to traditional book skills."

Many parents believe college is the best route to a successful future. But the recession has shown in many cases, this is a false hope.

Pauken pointed to the story of "a 25-year-old Portland, Ore., electrician who earns $34 an hour working in renewable energy while some of his friends who went to college are having a hard time finding jobs."

He added, "In fact, the skills these so-called 'blue collar' jobs require and the rewards they afford are impressive by most measures. Those workers are wanted, and not just for the short run."

The Texas Department of Agriculture effort couldn't be timelier. The department has allocated $500,000 for the pilot program.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Tri-National Accord in Canada

I was in Canada this week at the Tri-National Agricultural Accord, which represents a longstanding commitment among the senior state and provincial agricultural officials of the United States, Canada and Mexico to work collaboratively on agricultural trade and development issues. We discussed issues ranging from harmonization of pesticide maximum residue limits and organic standards to the rural development programs vital to sustaining our rural communities.

On Tuesday, I presented the need for a joint statement on H1N1 nomenclature. I felt this was necessary because of the continuous and inaccurate usage of the term “swine flu” by the media. The misuse of this label by professional media sources is drastically compounding the human health crisis by providing the public with inaccurate information that creates a skewed perception of pork and perpetuates an unwarranted and avoidable economic calamity for many agricultural producers, processors and distributors. It’s unfair to consumers to mislead them on something as sacred as their food supply.

Yesterday, we led discussions on livestock border crossing in a U.S.-Mexico bilateral meeting. These discussions are imperative, because Mexico is a valuable trading partner. For example, since the border reopened to beef cattle in 2008, we’ve seen roughly 1,455 head shipped through Texas. At $2,000 per head, the total value crossed to date works out to $2.9 million. The direct economic impact of those sales is $6.4 million, and the total for beef cattle trade through ALL U.S. ports is valued at about $6.3 million, with a direct economic impact equal to about $13.8 million. This is great for Texas cattle producers.

But much more needs to be done to enhance trade opportunities and ensure trade runs smoothly for both sides. There are several trade impediments that we are trying to remedy, including the complexity of the paperwork and expense of permit requirements; varying inspection procedures and officials from one port to the next; and seals on trailers that limit assembling loads from multiple ranches.

We must work through these barriers to ensure Texas producers maximize gains and our international partners get the best that Texas has to offer. The steps we take today can lead to a more harmonious tomorrow for Texas and our global trading partners.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Visit to Hilmar Cheese in Dalhart

Got Milk? Got Cheese? They have both in the Texas Panhandle, and plenty of each in the town of Dalhart.

Dalhart is home to the Texas Division of Hilmar Cheese, a state-of-the-art cheese production plant that ships its products worldwide. Dairy production has grown rapidly in this region of the state and the Hilmar facility has been a big catalyst. This capital investment and related jobs were made possible by a sizeable investment from Hilmar

Cheese, along with some help from the good folks from Dallam County, Dallam Independent School District, Texas Workforce Commission, Dumas Economic Development Corporation, City of Dalhart, City of Amarillo and the Panhandle region, in partnership with the Texas Enterprise Fund and the Texas Capital Fund.

Texas is a great state in which to do business and that, my friends, means jobs. Let’s keep it that way.

While in Dalhart, I rode in the grand entry of the XIT Rodeo. The XIT Ranch was the largest range under one fence, measuring 3,000,000 acres. The state of Texas essentially traded the land for the state capitol we have today. A BIG Texas thank you to the folks of Dalhart for keeping the heritage of Texas alive.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Texas Drought Getting Federal Attention

Thanks to the leadership of our Texas Congressional delegation, the devastating drought in Texas is finally getting some federal attention. Last night, the U.S. Senate added their voice to the crowd of us who have been calling on USDA for months to hurry up and use their specifically authorized programs to help Texas producers.

Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison successfully sponsored and passed a "sense of the Senate resolution" urging USDA to expedite implementation of the permanent disaster programs authorized by the farm bill more than a year ago. The resolution also urges USDA to utilize the broad authorities of the Secretary to send other forms of assistance now, as has been done in years past by previous presidential administrations. We need action now.

Monday, August 3, 2009

City of Duncanville No. 1 for affordable home prices among America's growing cities

Today I am proud, but not surprised, to learn has named the city of Duncanville No. 1 for affordable home prices among America's growing cities. Duncanville was chosen from over 2,400 towns across the country with populations ranging from 8,500-50,000. Factors considered in the rankings included jobs, housing, schools and taxes, among others. Duncanville’s 2008 median home price of $99,648 and median annual family income of $72,243 clinched the top ranking.

As a GO TEXAN Certified Retirement Community, we already know Duncanville offers fantastic amenities, great employment opportunities and plenty of Texas hospitality. If you're looking for a home, Duncanville should be on your radar.

As I congratulate Duncanville, I'm also reminded that Texas has weathered the economic downturn better than most states. Our limited government and sensible tax structure help our dollars go farther than the national average. The message is well worth repeating - Texas is a great place to live.

Right now there are 28 GO TEXAN Certified Retirement Communities (CRC) across our great state. I invite cities and counties to look into this program and see all the wonderful benefits; maybe next year, you could top a list just like Duncanville. To learn more about the CRC program, go here.

To read the entire article go here. And again, congratulations to Duncanville!