Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Providing Parallel Pathways to Success and Taking Personal Responsibility

A recent Houston Chronicle article titled, "Poverty, dropout rates bode grim future for state," calls attention to an ever-increasing problem not only in Texas, but also throughout the country - namely, the lack of an educated workforce and the negative consequences to not only affected individuals, but also to our entire economy.

With our increasing population and a rising number of students not taking advantage of our formal education system, alarm bells should be sounding in boardrooms and living rooms across Texas.

At TDA, our economic development team has been working for the past three years on solutions to this tremendous challenge. One such solution is offering Parallel Pathways to Success. This initiative stems from the reality that while a four-year college degree may be the ultimate goal, many students are not on that path. Tangible alternatives that provide parallel pathways are needed to capture students' imaginations, enhance skills and earning capacity, and ultimately fan the flames of productivity and independence that help foster personal responsibility. At TDA, we have provided incentives to public schools that offer students an alternate path to the workforce through career and technical training. Alternate education options with visible, career-enhancing results are clearly more favorable than dropping out.

On top of a dropout problem, Texas, like other states, also struggles with food-insecurity, obesity and underachievement. These issues are not isolated or unrelated, and there are successful programs available to help combat these problems. Ultimately, however, it all boils down to personal responsibility. Government cannot mandate solutions to these problems - the solutions start at home.

Meeting rooms in Washington and Texas do not have all the answers. Our nation's living rooms must provide true leadership and our schools and local businesses must provide partnerships for improving our workforce. Let's make certain our educational programs provide parallel pathways to success, while also making it clear that success is the goal, high standards are our expectations, and Texans will not settle for less.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Governor Briscoe leaves a legacy as big as Texas

The Lone Star State and Texas agriculture lost a loyal and distinguished friend Sunday with the passing of former Governor Dolph Briscoe.
Born into a ranching and oil family, Gov. Briscoe served as Texas governor from 1973-1979. Among his many accomplishments in agriculture, Gov. Briscoe served as the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association President, helped eradicate the threat of screwworm and was pivotal in developing the farm-to-market system of paved roads. As a politician, Gov. Briscoe championed government transparency and reform.
A native of Uvalde and a UT Longhorn, Briscoe was as Texan as they come. I want to offer my personal condolences to the Briscoe family, and I know I can speak for all in the agriculture industry when I say thank you to Gov. Briscoe for his many groundbreaking accomplishments and the lasting legacy he leaves behind.

Supreme Court makes the correct call and protects our right to bear arms

The United States Supreme Court made it clear today, the right to keep and bear arms is a fundamental constitutional right that cannot be revoked or infringed upon.
I applaud this decision by the Court to strike down a ban on handguns in Chicago. The ruling protects the principles of our founding fathers while also allowing us to protect ourselves. After all, personal defense is key to personal liberty  and banning gun ownership would only disarm responsible, law-abiding citizens.
Although our constitution has protected responsible gun ownership since the day our country was founded, the right to bear arms continues to fall under attack. Today’s ruling narrowly protected our gun rights by a 5-4 split decision.
This ruling preserves one of our basic rights as Americans - namely the right to protect our families and ourselves. Furthermore, this decision ensures government does not overstep its bounds by meddling in our personal freedoms. I salute our five Supreme Court justices who understand the Second Amendment is one of the cornerstones that our nation is built upon.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Happy Father's Day to All the Super Dads

Guest Blogger - Janet Staples, Commissioner Staples' wife

There is good reason why great fathers are often compared to superheroes. In a child's eyes there is nobody bigger, stronger or faster than Daddy. He can magically assemble Barbie's dream house, squash the scariest bug and get stickers out of little feet faster than a speeding bullet.

As I grew older, Daddy taught me the value of a dollar, respect for my elders and confidence in myself. He helped me with my homework and always had the answers. He believed in my talents and abilities and gave me the foundation for the work I do today.

Even now as an adult, Daddy's wisdom still guides me. He instilled in me a love of country and a sense of values for which I am very grateful. He walks a little slower now, but that wit and sense of humor haven't dimmed one bit. And I still think he can leap tall buildings in a single bound.

On this Father's Day I say thank you to all the great men (like my Dad) who make the world a better place by being good fathers - and superheroes - to their sons and daughters. Happy Father's Day.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Texas Seafood is Still Safe to Eat!!!

Guest Blogger - Elizabeth Hadley, assistant commissioner for marketing

Ever since the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster hit the Gulf waters near Louisiana, consumers have questioned the safety of Texas seafood. At the Texas Department of Agriculture we have been working diligently to set the record straight about our seafood. Through various coordination activities with industry and fellow government agencies, coupled with outreach to restaurants, retailers, wholesalers and media, we are reminding consumers that Texas waters remain uncontaminated by the spill and that Texas seafood is still safe to eat.

On Thursday, a group of us from TDA ate lunch at Quality Seafood in Austin. Upon walking in, I was thrilled to see this GO TEXAN member proudly display the materials we created for this exact purpose. And I can't say enough about the selection of Texas seafood. We all enjoyed our lunch and were happy to see Texas consumers enjoying safe and high quality Texas seafood.
Thanks again to Quality Seafood for remaining committed to supporting Texas seafood producers, and serving Texans the best our state has to offer.

Remember - GO out. GO Eat. GO TEXAN.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

New Texas Map Identifies Areas in Texas Lacking Critical Broadband Services

On Wednesday, with the assistance of Connected Texas and the Public Utility Commission, I released a new and unprecedented map that clearly identifies which parts of Texas still do not have access to broadband services. This interactive map should prove to be a useful tool in determining coverage availability, providers and pricing, in much the same way the power-to-choose site helps consumers in selecting their electrical service provider.

The map, which includes data from 123 broadband providers, indicates that approximately 96 percent of Texas households have access to home broadband service; however, a quarter of a million households in the Lone Star State — more than all of the households in Vermont — lack access to this critical broadband service. In terms of landmass, 45 percent of the state is not covered by home broadband service.

Not having access to broadband services in the 21st century poses a challenge for rural communities in Texas that we know are losing educational, medical and economic development opportunities and services due to a lack of high-speed Internet. By pinpointing the unserved areas, public and private industry projects can be developed that will lead to connecting all of Texas.

I'd like to encourage all Texans to view the map and assist us with validating the collected information. Visit to participate. Together, we can make sure no Texan is left behind on the information superhighway.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Battling Childhood Hunger is a Collaborative Effort

Guest Blogger - Deputy Commissioner Drew DeBerry

I spent some time yesterday with the kids at the Boys and Girls Club in South Austin where we at the Texas Department of Agriculture are partnering with the Capital Area Food bank (CAFB) to deliver federally-funded, free meals to children, many of whom do not know where their next meal is coming from.

It was rewarding to hear one child, Joseph, explain the values of the meals to him. Through his humorous description of himself as the "good-looking one" out of him and his twin brother, it was impossible to overlook the sincerity and impact these programs have on his family. I also enjoyed talking with Joe, Matthew, Mario, Stephanie and so many other thankful children who are solid reminders of why we do what we do.

We must remember that all Texans benefit from a healthy state, and that's why it's imperative we change our No. 1 national ranking in childhood food insecurity. Through Commissioner Staples' Mayors Challenge and with the help of organizations like the CAFB and the Boys and Girls Club, we can raise awareness of these federally funded, free meals and bridge the hunger gap in Texas.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Thanks to San Juan Mayor Contreras, and Others, for Helping Feed Hungry Kids

Today my travels took me to Reed and Mock Elementary in San Juan where Mayor Pedro Contreras joined State Sen. Eddie Lucio and me in an effort to feed hungry children.

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples visits Reed and Mock Elementary in San Juan to talk about the importance of feeding Texas children during the summer.

Mayor Contreras has accepted the Texas Department of Agriculture's statewide Mayors Challenge, which is aimed at increasing awareness about TDA's Summer Nutrition Programs that provide for children who rely on school meals for daily nourishment. The Pharr - San Juan - Alamo ISD, with Imelda Palacios as its Child Nutrition Program director, is working closely with Mayor Contreras and already seems to be doing an excellent job feeding children in need.

But we must continue to do more across the entire state. During the school year, Texas schools serve an average 2.1 million meals daily for free or reduced prices to children from low-income families. By contrast during the summer, fewer than 322,000 lunches are served at no cost each day. These are not good numbers for a state that ranks No.1 for food-insecure children.

Unfortunately, closing the summertime hunger gap in Texas is not our only challenge. We also must increase opportunities for families to become more self-sufficient through higher education and better job opportunities. All Texans benefit from a hunger-free state, and with help from community leaders like Mayor Contreras, we are taking steps to sustain our neighbors in need so they can focus on pursuing long-term financial independence.

Again, I applaud and thank Mayor Contreras and other statewide mayors who are helping direct children in their communities toward nutritious summertime meals. To find a summer feeding site in your community, visit or call 211.

Agriculture Jobs are Growing!

I just read some great news for high school seniors debating which career path to take. According to an article in Cattle Network based on a study by Purdue University and the USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture, ag-related careers are showing promise.

Over the next five years, job opportunities in this broad field of study are said to be even better than during 2005-10. I think this has a great deal to do with the diversity of agriculture and the fact that consumers are wanting more information about where their food and fiber comes from and how it is handled.

I hope this new interest in agriculture will influence the curricula of the many outstanding agricultural programs in Texas. We need bright minds to bring innovative thinking to the future of agriculture in the Lone Star State.
You can read the entire Cattle Network article below:

Report: Job Market Expected To Improve For Ag-Related Grads
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Employment opportunities for college graduates in agriculture and related academic fields are expected to be better over the next five years than from 2005-10, according to a report by Purdue University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

The "Employment Opportunities for College Graduates in Food, Renewable Energy and the Environment" report estimates 54,400 jobs in agriculture-related sectors will be added in the United States annually between 2010 and 2015. In that same period, 53,500 students are expected to graduate each year from U.S. colleges of agriculture and in the life sciences, veterinary medicine, forestry and natural resources, and allied non-agricultural fields.

"Depending on their area of expertise, there should be good opportunities for graduates, with some growth in total jobs during the next five years," said Allan Goecker, associate director of academic programs for Purdue's College of Agriculture and one of the report's authors.

A summary of the report is available online at

Nearly three-fourths of the new jobs will be in business and science occupations; 15 percent in agriculture and forestry production; and 11 percent in education, communication and government services.

"In the business and management fields, occupations in sales and service continue to be the bellwether for employment opportunities," Goecker said. "I also think we're going to see more emphasis on people who have expertise and experience in financial planning and management and in environmental compliance."

Other fields with above-average job growth through 2015 include food science, plant sciences, biological engineering, public practice veterinary medicine, specialty crop production, forest restoration, precision agriculture, crop management consulting, climate change analysis, distance education and natural resources conservation, Goecker said.

"Many of these areas are tied to food and renewable energy, which are considered necessities," he said. "Five years ago we were talking about opportunities in the 'green' industry, particularly areas such as turf management and landscape architecture. Right now the job market in those areas is not very strong because they tend to be viewed as luxury services."

The future job market for college graduates with degrees in food, renewable energy and environmental fields will depend on macroeconomic conditions and retirements, consumer food choices, public policy decisions, and global market shifts in population, income, food and energy, Goecker said.

"There will be niches in the market where we will be undersupplied in the work force and areas of the market where we'll probably have more graduates than the market can accommodate," he said.

The report is based on data from the U.S. Department of Labor, the National Center for Educational Statistics, and colleges and universities.

Source: Allan Goecker, Purdue University

Friday, June 11, 2010

Don’t impose burdensome greenhouse gas regulation

On Thursday the United States Senate debated a Senate Resolution, which would block an out of control Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from imposing burdensome greenhouse gas regulation on American families and businesses. Unfortunately, the resolution was narrowly defeated, and EPA will therefore undoubtedly continue its regulatory efforts, driving American families and businesses out of business.

I thank the bipartisan group of 47 Senators, who sided with Texas and 15 other states, who supported Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski’s resolution to stop EPA from using the Clean Air Act as a vehicle for climate change regulation.

In her comments, Senator Murkowski recognized several Texas agriculture producer groups who demonstrated support for the resolution. I am proud of our farmers and ranchers who constantly demonstrate their dedication to providing consumers the most affordable and reliable food and fiber in the world. The EPA’s use of the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gas emissions will raise the cost of transportation and fertilizers, endangering our farms and ranches.

As I have said throughout this process: relying on foreign oil is bad enough; I don’t want to imagine being dependent on foreign food.

Three Texas ISDs Recognized Nationally as "Districts of Excellence"

The School Nutrition Association recently named only nine school districts in the entire nation as "Districts of Excellence Distinction in School Nutrition." It's no surprise three of them were right here in Texas. Hey, like the saying goes, "it ain't braggin' if it's true!"

Congratulations to the Dallas Independent School District, the El Paso Independent School District and the Canutillo Independent School District for their hard-earned awards. The child nutrition programs in these districts exemplify the 3E's of Healthy Living – Education, Exercise and Eating Right. The Texas Department of Agriculture is proud to be a Partner for Progress with these school districts.

To be chosen for this honor, districts must prove they work with the community to ensure students learn life-long healthy nutrition habits. They also must demonstrate commitment to continuous program improvement.

I'd also like to thank the child nutrition teams across the Lone Star State for their continuous hard work and dedication as they strive to exceed national standards to ensure Texas children are getting the healthiest meals. Together we can make Texas a healthier state.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Cost of Complacency Can Leave You Trapped

Nothing paints a better picture than this story from the world of agriculture. In the April 15, 2010 edition of Texas Agriculture Talks, Publisher Gene Hall uses a story about catching wild hogs as an analogy for how easy it is to let down your guard when the bait is tempting. The verbal telling of the story is originally credited to Hall's friend and colleague, Si Cook. Titled, "The Cost of Free Corn," the story warns of how complacency toward entitlement programs can one day leave you trapped. I encourage you to read it.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Texas Crop Positioned to Clean Oil from the Shores of Neighboring States

Texas waters have not been affected by the Gulf oil disaster and Texas seafood remains both safe to eat and the high quality consumers across the nation have come to expect. But in true Lone Star State fashion, we remain focused on the disaster and prayerful for those who have been affected. The latest hope in the effort to battle the Gulf of Mexico oil spill is a technology called Fibertect Cotton-Soaking (CS), which was just approved by the EPA .

Scientists at Texas Tech University helped develop the Fibertect CS, a three-layer flexible, inert, non-woven, non-particulate decontamination system that has been proven to be successful in absorbing chemicals such as oil. As the name implies, cotton is a major component, along with carbon. According to the First Line Technology, scientific research shows raw cotton can absorb more than 20 times its weight, and when chemically modified, that absorption capability is doubled or tripled. Check out CNBC's report on this technology.

For the sake of our environment, seafood producers and beautiful Gulf Coast beaches, I hope this technology is put to use by the Federal government and British Petroleum. I also hope it spares our neighbors across the Gulf from even more damage than they've already suffered due to what is now considered the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history.

Friday, June 4, 2010

A Visit With a GO TEXAN Member

With Cynthia Sutton-Stolle, co-owner of Silver Barn Antiques

There's always a special place to visit in Texas, and I recently had the opportunity to tour GO TEXAN member Silver Barn Antiques in Columbus, Texas.

Co-owners Cynthia and Becca also carry some very interesting Texas college memorabilia at their store. Red Raider or UT Longhorn fans will probably find what they are looking for at Silver Barn Antiques. Of course, the Texas A&M University products caught my attention.

Besides proudly displaying Texas products, Silver Barn Antiques also serves some terrific Texas-flavored food and is a part of the reason the GO TEXAN marketing campaign is so successful.

TDA's GO TEXAN program is home to many outstanding Texas businesses. If you're looking for a high school or college graduation gift, consider browsing at Silver Barn Antiques or visit the GO TEXAN website where you can find other great gift ideas while supporting the Texas economy.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

GO TEXAN WineCast Episode 6- Munson Wine Trail

This is the sixth in a series of eight videos on Texas wine trails. This episode features the Munson Wine Trail, 12 wineries stretching across the northeast corner of Texas. Beginning just north of Dallas, the Munson Wine Trail offers a range of events each year, such as barrel tastings and the McKinney Wine & Jazz Festival.

Watch the video here:

You can go to to view videos on other trails located across our state and to find out more about all Texas wines and wineries have to offer.