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.