Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Tour Texas Wine Trails with New GO TEXAN WineCasts

Friendly personalities, beautiful scenery and award-winning wines characterize Texas wine trails. We're excited people all over the world can access the new GO TEXAN WineCasts to uncork the fun and welcoming experiences of our wine country.

At the Texas Department of Agriculture, we're launching a new series of Web videos highlighting eight Lone Star wine trails. Winemakers and trail representatives will share travel tips for each trail, as well as specifics about trail events, celebrations and what visitors can expect.

The series kicks off with the Texas Bluebonnet Wine Trail, a group of eight wineries scattered from Brenham to Montgomery. Subsequent weekly episodes will cover wine trails around the state, including Cross Timbers Wine Trail, Dallas Wine Trail, Fredericksburg Wine Road 290, Grapevine Wine Trail, Munson Wine Trail, Texas Hill Country Wine Trail and Way Out Wineries. The videos will be posted on the GO TEXAN Wine YouTube Channel and featured on TDA's Texas wine site.

View our videos for a taste of what wine trails offer, but don't stop there. Pick up TDA's Texas Winery Passport, and explore Texas wine country. You'll not only enjoy your experience, you'll join the roughly 1 million visitors a year touring one of the fastest-growing sectors of Texas agriculture.

Our booming Texas wine industry, with more than 180 wineries, contributes more than $1.35 billion annually to the state's economy. Whether you're a first time visitor or a seasoned Texas wine country veteran, I'm excited to welcome you to explore the pour, taste Texas pride and GO TEXAN!

Watch Episode 1 on the Texas Bluebonnet Wine Trail here:

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Getting to the Meat of the Matter

We’re big on beef in Texas and for that I'll make no apologies to the activists behind the Meatout movement. The Meatout campaign continues to encourage folks to refrain from eating meat claiming it’s unhealthy, bad for the environment and morally wrong to enjoy. Not only is there evidence and compelling opinions of the exact opposite, such as the one written here by Isabel Cowles for the Huffington Post, but as a Texan, I can't imagine a family barbecue in the Lone Star State without beef!

Another thing I can't imagine is city and state leaders in San Francisco and Michigan pushing the Meatout agenda on their citizens. In San Francisco, city officials passed a declaration to designate every Monday as "meat free." Similarly in Michigan, the governor recently proclaimed a one-day boycott of meat calling it "Michigan Meatout Day." At the risk of being frowned upon by these wannabe plate police, I'll continue to work hard at my job here in Texas and happily stick to my ribs - and for good reason.

Meat is part of a well-balanced, healthy diet. Packed with protein, nutrients, essential amino acids and disease-fighting enzymes, beef not only tastes good, but also provides many of the defenses and nutrients that keep us healthy and strong - such as iron and zinc. The American Council on Science and Health even notes that beef is part of an overall heart-healthy diet.

Don’t get me wrong, I very much enjoy and highly encourage daily servings of fruits and vegetables. Not only are these foods delicious sources of vitamins and nutrients, they also contribute to a balanced diet and make terrific sides to a serving of steak, pork chops or chicken.

The fact of the matter is meat helps build a healthy body and its production and consumption are part of the natural order of our ecosystem. Lucky for us, Texas leads the nation in beef production thanks to our hardworking cattle producers who contribute $14.9 billion annually to our state's economy. That's great news for those of us who just can’t muster an appetite for veggie burgers or tofu.

If not eating meat suits your lifestyle, then that is certainly your choice - just be honest about your motives. Don't downplay the positives and don't preach to me about Meatout while there are so many good things you can be doing with your time. Remember, Nero fiddled while Rome burned. Looks like these leaders in California and Michigan should be focused on serving up jobs rather than worrying about what you are having for dinner.

Monday, April 26, 2010

When Considering Land-Use and Water Policies, We Must be Mindful of Unintended Consequences

Oregon farmers and land owners are facing some interesting policy decisions as they reconsider a 1973 zoning regulation that was designed to maintain open space and preserve farmland, but may be resulting in the loss of operational farmland, hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars. According to some farmers, zoning land for agriculture only has limited the ability of orchards to maximize their land holdings, putting some in danger of going out of business and preventing others from raising capital to expand.

This demonstrates the need to understand markets and the consequences of policy decisions as we approach land use and water policy here in Texas. Water policy will be a major issue in the 2011 Legislative Session, and we must take a thoughtful and balanced approach that provides the flexibility for farmers and ranchers to continue producing the safest, most abundant and most affordable food supply in the nation while also maintaining the value of their land.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Honoring San Jacinto Day

There are many proud days in the history of Texas, but perhaps none more revered than April 21, 1836. On this day 174 years ago, Texas won its independence from Mexico after emerging victorious under the leadership of General Sam Houston at the Battle of San Jacinto. Though independence was declared a month before on March 2, 1836, it wasn't until the dust settled at San Jacinto that Mexico conceded defeat and relinquished control of Texas.

On a battlefield in modern-day Harris County where historians say the bloody fight raged for less than 20 minutes, some 700 Mexicans were killed while only nine Texans fell fighting for sovereignty. Driven by ruthless defeats that inspired the battle cries “Remember the Alamo!” and “Remember Goliad!” the Texans regrouped and fought fiercely to honor their fallen and win independence.

Today, Texas stands as the greatest state in the greatest nation on earth. Our freedom fighters would be proud to know their determination, bravery and sacrifices continue to be respected and admired in Texas and around the world. For this debt, we honor this day as a state holiday and must never forget the Battle of San Jacinto.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Fighting Obesity at the Children's Nutrition Research Center

Dr. Morey Haymond recently gave me a tour of the Texas Children's Hospital campus in Houston, which is home to the USDA/ARS Children's Nutrition Research Center. This facility is one of six of its kind in the nation and also the largest. On top of this multi-story building in downtown Houston is a greenhouse where plants are grown and research is conducted to determine the nutrient content of plants. Additional work is done to determine how our bodies absorb proper nutrients. Dr. Tom Baranowski, professor of pediatrics, complements these studies through behavioral research projects that will hopefully result in healthier lifestyle choices.

Along with Dr. Dennis Bier, director of the Children's Nutrition Research Center, these doctors and their colleagues are working diligently to fight the obesity crisis our nation faces today. More than a major health concern, the obesity crisis is draining precious resources and causing unnecessary expenses, which means taxpayers are picking up the tab for poor eating choices.

All Texans should be proud of the work being done at the Children's Nutrition Research Center, which is part of the Baylor College of Medicine. We are fortunate to have some of our nation's leading scientists and researchers right here in the Lone Star State.

There is no silver bullet to winning the battle of the bulge, but with continued research and the daily application of the 3E's of Healthy Living - Education, Exercise and Eating Right, we can begin to reverse this dangerous trend that is robbing our citizens of a quality life and our taxpayers of their hard-earned dollars.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Food Safety a Priority Among Texas Producers

With consumers concerned about food safety issues, this article by the Southwest Farm Press serves as a good reminder of the great lengths farmers and ranchers go to ensure Americans continue to receive the safest food supply in the world.

Here at the Texas Department of Agriculture, we continue to find new and better ways to protect consumers. For instance, we have invested more than $340,000 into projects that assist producers in adopting and implementing good agricultural practices. The funds specifically pay for the education of producers, audits on their farms and costs associated with implementing good agricultural practices in their operations. This funding resulted from actions I took in 2007 to establish food safety as one of only four funding priorities under the federal Specialty Crop Block Grant TDA administers.

Texas and American consumers demand the very best, and Texas farmers and ranchers are proud partners in delivering that quality with an eye toward safety. To learn more about finding safe, healthy and affordable Texas products, go to and look for the GO TEXAN Programs link.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Growing the Texas Olive Oil Industry

Opportunity continues to grow in Texas as described in this recent Houston Chronicle article about the burgeoning olive oil industry.

As mentioned in the story, annual U.S. production of olive oil is 350,000 gallons compared to our annual consumption of nearly 50 million gallons. That means we produce less than 1 percent of what we consume. I see this as a tremendous opportunity for Texas agriculture.

At TDA, we are working to make sure olive growers don’t go at it alone. Through our Specialty Crop Block Grant program, $49,999 went to Texas Tech University (in partnership with the Texas Olive Oil Council) in 2009 to increase olive oil production in Texas.

With help from another $20,000 in federal specialty crop funds, TDA also partnered with the Texas olive oil industry to create a recipe book called, "GO TEXAN Olive Oil Recipes, Savor the Flavors of Texas." The book is available for download at or by e-mail at We also partner with farmers markets, grocery stores and the shrimp and produce industries to conduct retail demonstrations that pair Texas olive oil with other GO TEXAN foods.

I have personally toured Texas olive orchards and met with our cutting edge farmers - their operations are definitely something to see. I encourage you to do the same. For more information, visit the Texas Olive Oil Council at

Good News for Farmers, Ranchers and Consumers

Gov. Perry recently announced the Texas Emerging Technology Fund (TETF) is investing $250,000 in Smartfield Inc., of Lubbock, for the commercialization of its crop irrigation management technology.

I have often said we are very proud of our bigger tractors and more horsepower, but science has led the way to the unprecedented level of productivity American agriculture enjoys today.

According to the governor’s release, Smartfield’s technology uses sensors to monitor rainfall, crop canopy temperatures and stress levels, and informs growers of the real-time irrigation demands of virtually any type of row crop. This method makes it easier for growers to determine the ideal conditions for watering crops, ultimately reducing pumping and labor costs, saving water and improving crop yields.

This technology offers tremendous potential benefits to all Texans as we struggle to manage water resources for a state growing in agriculture as well as population.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Rockwall High School Ag Class a Popular Choice Among Students

A few weeks ago, USA Today published an article about an FFA program in St. Louis that illustrates how broad and diverse agriculture is today. The story also reported how students of various backgrounds are being introduced to the choices they have when considering agriculture as a profession.

Right here in Texas, students at Rockwall High School also are exploring the ever-growing field of agriculture. As described in this Dallas Morning News story, Casey Jones is the only Texas teacher currently qualified to teach Curriculum for Agricultural Science Education (CASE), a project of the National Council for Agricultural Education.

CASE recognizes that agriculture is much more than the food we eat and the clothes we wear. It’s a big part of our economy, and it’s growing. Students in the Rockwall program are developing skills for a variety of career paths that can lead to commodity markets, biology labs and veterinarian training.

It was exciting to learn each CASE unit offers national standards in core subjects such as English, science and math. Even if a student is not necessarily planning a career in production agriculture, he or she will have many career choices and will be better prepared for the rigors of college. This is a great example of the many good things happening in Texas agriculture, and the program in Rockwall could be a model for schools across the state.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Texas Trade-Up Appliance Rebate Program

The Texas Comptroller's Office is rolling out a new incentive program to get Texans to upgrade their appliances to more energy efficient ones. Texas residents can qualify for a mail-in rebate for the purchase of ENERGY STAR-rated appliances if they buy the eligible appliance in-store at a Texas retailer between April 16 and April 25, 2010. The list of eligible appliances includes refrigerators, freezers, room air conditioners, clothes washers, dishwashers, central air conditioners, air source heat pumps and hot water heaters.

Individuals are limited to two rebates. If you are interested in purchasing, or you are a retailer interested in selling ENERGY STAR-rated appliances, please go to or call (877) 780-3039 for more details.

Friday, April 2, 2010

At TDA, We Deliver...

It was a two-baby day at TDA! It all happened on April 1 and, no, this is no April Fool's joke!

First, our chief of staff, Shannon Rusing, delivered Aksel Fynn Rusing. At 19 inches long, Aksel came into the world weighing 6 pounds, 15 ounces.

While this excitement was going on, we heard our Assistant Commissioner for Communications, Bryan Black, was headed to the hospital to meet his wife, Suzanne, who was going into labor. Apparently Baby Black surprised mom and dad with his early arrival because the family hadn't yet selected a name when it was time to print the birth certificate. Baby Black came in at 8 pounds, 5 ounces and 21 inches long.

Congratulations to Shannon and Rich, as well as Bryan and Suzanne. May God grant you energy, wisdom and PATIENCE.

They say March comes in like a lion and out like a lamb, but the end of March (or first of April) was anything but mild at TDA!