Monday, January 31, 2011

Health Care Ruling

I am pleased that federal Judge Roger Vinson ruled President Obama’s health care reform act to be unconstitutional. The judge correctly ruled that no government – regardless of good intentions – can force individuals to buy a product or participate in a service against their will.
This legislation, passed in the dark of night and strongly opposed by a majority of Americans, is a job killer for our economy. I strongly urge the president and Congress to work together to pass real health care reform that relies on the proven principles of the free market and puts patients, not bureaucrats, in the driver's seat. 

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Awards Add Shine to Texas Pride

I am always proud of the work our team does here at the Texas Department of Agriculture and apparently I’m not alone. The Texas Association of Fairs and Events recently awarded 11 Ray Cammack Shows Awards of Excellence for Marketing and Communications to TDA’s 2010 State Fair of Texas Food and Fiber Pavilion.

Each year, the Food and Fiber Pavilion, presented by Borden, educates countless Texans about agriculture while supporting dozens of Lone Star businesses and highlighting Texas pride. Congratulations to the TDA team that makes this award-winning effort possible.

Following are the awards:

1st place – Best Agricultural Education Program
1st place – Best Promotional Advertising — Outdoor
1st place – Best Radio Promotion — Ad Spot or PSA
1st place – Best Specialty Video
1st place – Best Promotional Poster
1st place – Best Program/Brochure/Flyer — Four or more colors
1st place – Best Miscellaneous Printed Materials
1st place – Best Other Merchandise
1st place – Best Environmental/Green Program
2nd place – Best New Media Platform
2nd place – Best Newsletter

Friday, January 28, 2011

Future of Texas Depends on Careful Consideration

I recently had the pleasure of visiting with the Texas Farm Bureau to talk about the years ahead and some of the critical issues and challenges facing the Department of Agriculture and the state of Texas.

Among the topics we covered, the availability of water is the single greatest issue facing agriculture. We need to see groundwater used effectively while also safeguarding the rights of landowners. A debate that balances the rights of property owners is critical to the future investment in our state.

Likewise, eminent domain is another issue that requires careful consideration. Owning property and passing it on to our children is a rich part of our Texas heritage. Reliable roadways, hospitals and other infrastructure are certainly necessary to our future prosperity, and it is equally imperative that landowners be justly compensated for relinquishing their property on behalf of the public good.

On the issue of redistricting, I strongly encourage our public officials to come together in order to create public policy that keeps both urban and rural Texas moving forward. Only tending to your own backyard does not create a better community. Each of us has a responsibility to be a good neighbor.

Again, my thanks to the Texas Farm Bureau for inviting me to discuss these issues and I look forward to our partnership growing as we work together to help all Texans.
You can view our full discussion here:

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Mike Rowe Paints a Real Picture of American Agriculture

Not too long ago, Mike Rowe, the Dirty Jobs guy on TV, spoke at the National FFA convention and opened a lot of eyes around the country. He used this opportunity to remind the world that, “Technical advances in modern agriculture now rival those in Silicon Valley, and today’s farms are more efficient than ever, but no one seems to have gotten the memo. No one seems to care.” I encourage you to read his entire opinion on this subject on his website.

This description of American agriculture is certainly not news to those of us engaged in or who work with others in the industry. But for the remaining 98 percent of Americans who are not involved in production agriculture, I’m certain Rowe’s statement probably leaves them scratching their heads.

This week, Rowe spoke at the American Farm Bureau annual convention in Georgia and gave a great recap of how federal agencies and private groups have piped up with the wrong impression after agricultural operations were shown on his show, Dirty Jobs. In this article from, Rowe reminds us that those who make a living from the land are the best advocates for good policies.

As we move ahead, our challenge is to make sure the true voices of agriculture are not drowned out by the loud screams of extremists. We must ensure the rest of America understands that farmers and ranchers were going green long before the green movement was cool.

A special thanks to Mike Rowe for helping us unveil the authentic canvas of American agriculture.

Monday, January 17, 2011

MLK Reminds Us Leadership is Needed

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. challenged us to be bigger than ourselves. The words he spoke in 1963 that state we should only be judged by the “content of our character” still ring true today for all generations and in all situations

The circumstances in America when Dr. King delivered his “I have a dream…” speech were very unpleasant for many. Each generation has its own challenges. We need to remember that Lady Justice is blindfolded. We must focus on issues and not personalities. Our generation certainly has a responsibility to solve the issues of our day in a way that treats all with justice and respect, even when we disagree.

With the Legislature now in session, Texas has many difficult discussions and decisions ahead. We are all Texans, and it is critical we work together to improve our state. Even as an independent bunch, we must use our can-do spirit to rise above rhetoric and clear a path to allow free enterprise and personal responsibility to flourish. We must focus more on policy and less on politics.

Remembering the work, sacrifice and leadership of Dr. King should remind all of us to be better leaders.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Water Wars Could Heat to a Boil

While headlines during this legislative session will be filled with budget woes and redistricting tales, a strong undercurrent that may not be as visible is the flowing dialogue over water.

A case currently pending before the Texas Supreme Court, Edwards Aquifer Authority and the State of Texas v. Burrell Day and Joel McDaniel, has us all neck-deep in a quandary. The source of concern is the petitioners’ assertion that landowners have no right to access the water beneath their property. Believe me, this is not a debate about the cup being half-empty or half-full. This is a major issue that not only could erode a landowner’s long-established rights, but also could decrease his or her property values and undermine such investments as irrigation pumps and water wells.

Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, Chair of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources, recently filed Senate Bill 332, which if passed, would clearly state that landowners have a vested ownership interest in the groundwater beneath their property. Many in agriculture and other landowner groups strongly support this clarification and have established to help organize and focus their mission.

Recently, however, the Lower Colorado Regional Water Planning Group (LCRWPG) and some groundwater conservation districts from across the state adopted a resolution that takes a different approach. This group says landowners should have a protected right to water only after it is pumped. The LCRWPG resolution argues that allowing landowners to access, or pump, the water beneath their property makes it difficult for groundwater conservation districts to manage water supplies in our aquifers, and will make districts vulnerable to lawsuits from disgruntled landowners.

We need to remember that no one, and I mean know one, has more of a vested interest in protecting our natural resources than farmers and ranchers. They know they have to take care of the land for it to be productive enough to supply the necessary items to feed and clothe our world. So while I strongly support local management of ground water resources, I also strongly believe a landowner should have a recognized interest in the water beneath his/her property. Otherwise, what would keep an outside entity from taking it without consideration of the impact to the landowner? Surely, we can find common ground and all keep our heads above water.

I look forward to the hearings on Sen. Fraser’s bill. Put your life jacket on because this water ride is likely to be rough.

Help On The Way?

Over the past couple years, Texas has been battling the EPA over its policies that seem to be based more on political science and less on sound science. All of you who have been helping fight this battle should be comforted to know that more help is on the way.

I just read in a recent Agri-Pulse Newsletter the following:

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), chairman of the Commerce Committee, lists “suspending EPA’s greenhouse gas regulations” as one of his top priorities. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) plans to introduce similar legislation. The Rockefeller bill is mirrored in the House by H.R.199, introduced last week by Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.). Congressman Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and the Environment, is cosponsoring legislation to withdraw EPA's authority to regulate greenhouse gases.

Those who support the EPA’s far-reaching methods have tried to paint our opposition as partisan positioning. It is refreshing to see such a bi-partisan group taking steps toward common ground. With the recent changes in the congressional make-up, I am more hopeful than ever our country can get back to a science-based approach to protecting our air and growing our jobs.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Can the EPA Unite Republicans and Democrats?

Over the past few years, I’ve spent a great deal of time calling attention to the absurd actions and attitudes of the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA’s track record of policy implementation continues to be detrimental to production agriculture. The high costs to the American taxpayer of these seemingly endless mandates are evident – while the benefits to that citizen are obscure at best.

I have formally expressed the concerns of Texans and requested relief in many areas from the administrator of the EPA, members of congress and the president. I also have joined other Texas officials and those from around the nation in asking the courts to intervene. The challenge is not over and I remain committed to using common sense policies and sound science as the best guidance in making decisions to protect and improve the environment.

I know some may think my objections are based on my party affiliation, but this is clearly one case where political agendas should take a back seat to the common good. For the skeptics out there, I thought I would share this excerpt from the Jan. 6, 2011 Agri-pulse Newsletter, which recounts an interview with outgoing House Agriculture Committee Chair Collin Peterson (D-Minn.).

One area where Peterson expects Republicans and Democrats to cooperate is in oversight of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). His staff is developing a paper that will outline ideas for getting the agency under control. “The EPA is totally out of control in my opinion, and they have caused all kinds of problems in the Chesapeake Bay with the way they’ve approached this (water pollution proposal).” Peterson insists the agency mandates suggest, “a bunch of ideological people taking an approach that you’re going to punish people instead of try to work with them. In agriculture that never works, so you’ve got to find a way to work with farmers and fit into their operation. There are a lot of areas in the EPA that they need to be reined in big time.”

Maybe Peterson is right. As unintended as it might be, the EPA may just unite Republicans and Democrats like never before. For the sake of our jobs, economy, food production, food security and our future, let's hope so.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Eminent Domain Takes Priority as Legislature Convenes

Today, Gov. Perry issued a proclamation placing eminent domain as an emergency agenda item for this session of the legislature. This means both chambers can take quick action on this critical matter early in the process.

This is a solid step forward in a long-fought battle to provide private property owners the protections they need from abusive use of eminent domain. We can all agree that roads must be built, pipelines must be laid and wastewater plants must be constructed.

What we can’t lose sight of is the fact that the rights of private property owners are guaranteed by both the Texas Constitution and the U.S. Constitution, and must be considered at the front end of growth and not as an afterthought. SB 18 by Sen. Craig Estes and HB 279 by Rep. Charlie Geren are two good examples of eminent domain reform legislation that needs to be passed and signed into law.

By passing Proposition 11 in 2009, Texas voters told lawmakers that our state needs to do more to protect the rights of private property owners. For years, I've promoted measures that would level the playing field for landowners by requiring condemning entities to be more open in the negotiation process, creating a standard for estimating the true harm to landowners and ensuring acquisitions occur for a real and direct public purpose.

Key components of eminent domain reform are:
  • Ensuring condemning entities negotiate with property owners in good faith and present a bona fide offer;
  • Requiring entities utilizing eminent domain to provide landowners just compensation for injuries, including diminished access;
  • Providing a buy-back provision so property owners may purchase condemned land if it is not used for the named public purpose within 10 years of the taking; and
  • Clarifying, in statute, the definition of “public use” to ensure eminent domain authority is only exercised for the public good and not for economic development projects or enhancing tax revenues.
I am glad to see this issue will be a priority for the 82nd Legislature and look forward to working with Gov. Perry and the Legislature to ensure the rights of farmers, ranchers and property owners across Texas are protected.

Rebuilding Trade Relations

Last week, I was pleased to report the progress being made on bringing the United States back into compliance with a trade agreement signed into law in 1993. The introduction of a new cross-border trucking proposal with Mexico takes a step toward rebuilding trade relations with our neighbor to the south.

In response to this U.S. proposal and as a show of goodwill toward facilitating trade between our countries, Mexico has since announced it will suspend the rotation of products being placed on the retaliatory tariff list.

This good news comes just days after the U.S. Department of Transportation introduced a new proposal that would again allow Mexican carriers to enter the United States. Obviously, this is great news for our farmers, ranchers and economy. It also bodes well for future trade relations with our closest neighbor, and for that I am thankful. However, during the duration of negotiations, the products currently on the retaliatory list will continue to be subject to additional duties in place.

To our neighbors in Mexico, I offer my gratitude and look forward to moving beyond the past so we may build a brighter future on a foundation of cooperation. I will not rest on this issue until it is finally resolved once and for all.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Finally – One Step Closer to Ending Unnecessary Mexican Tariffs on U.S. Agricultural Products

Today, the U.S. Department of Transportation introduced a new proposal that would allow Mexican carriers, or long-haul trucks, into the United States in an attempt to come current on a deal the U.S. and Mexico signed in 1993. While long overdue, this action is a critical step toward ending the unnecessary tariffs Mexico has placed on U.S. agricultural products as a means of retaliation after the U.S. terminated the first Cross Border Trucking Pilot Program more than a year ago.

The Lone Star State exports billions of dollars each year worth of food, fiber and other goods across its borders to countries that depend on these Texas-made products. This is why back in 2009 I urged our federal government to find a quick resolution to this dispute. Although today’s announcement comes more than a year after Mexico imposed its retaliatory tariffs, we can only hope our southern trading partner will receive the plan well and immediately lift these unnecessary sanctions.

Our farmers and ranchers face enough challenges, from unpredictable weather to ever changing and growing regulatory policies from Washington. The last thing they need is another unnecessary obstacle. I look forward to the two sides agreeing on a solution so Texans can get back to doing what we do best – providing the world with the finest quality agricultural products.

Starting A New Term

I was humbled, proud and privileged this week to be sworn into office for a second term as Texas Commissioner of Agriculture. I’d like to thank my family, friends and colleagues who attended the ceremony and also extend my gratitude to Texans who believe in our mission and have blessed me with the ability to serve another four years. Thanks also to Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Speaker of the House Joe Straus who presided over the ceremony, and to Sec. of State Hope Andrade who administered the oath of office.

During the next fours years, I look forward to building on the progress of the past and embracing the partnerships that will lead us into the future. Ensuring Texas remains a national leader in agriculture, job creation and economic recovery is a responsibility I take seriously. I pledge to work with state and federal partners to limit government encroachment; protect the rights of private property owners; and safeguard our domestic sources of food and fiber so that we do not become dependent on foreign countries.

With your support, we will grow Texas agriculture and our economy while continuing to be a powerhouse of productivity. It’s an honor to serve you and the great state of Texas.

Here’s a short clip of the ceremony.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

EPA's Proposed Green House Gas Rules Will Cap Competitiveness, Move Jobs Oversees

Over the holidays, EPA delivered the gift of more regulation and higher costs to Texans by issuing proposed rules for the federal implementation of their dubious greenhouse gas (GHG) regulations in the Lone Star State.

This proposed federal implementation plan most assuredly lowers our country’s competitiveness by imposing costs that businesses will not be able to justify, thereby creating artificial barriers to production not required by some of our most fierce rival countries. Giving a competitive advantage to these other countries means we will be exporting our jobs abroad rather than our products.

Of note in the implementation plan are the listed entities that will be potentially “impacted” by these new rules. The list is quite expansive and includes electricity production and chemical manufacturers, just to name a few.

Strategically not mentioned is production agriculture. You see, in an attempt to curb uprising from the public, EPA has narrowed its reach, scaling back its originally proposed GHG regulatory scheme to specifically omit agriculture production. However, what these overzealous regulators fail to comprehend is that producers of food and fiber (as well as all consumers) rely on the targeted industries. This means that while not directly impacted today, all of the costs associated with producing food are certain to rise, thus increasing the cost of food for you and the rest of America.

Something else to consider – EPA took the action to implement these rules when Congress could not do so. The leaders of the recently adjourned Congress could not muster the votes to pass GHG regulation because its members knew what the American people know – you can’t negotiate with yourself and expect to win.

We all agree we must be good stewards of the environment. But the greenhouse gas regulations EPA is implementing will lead to certain costs while chasing obscure benefits.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

For Big Changes in 2011, Resolve to Start Small

A brand new year is always a time to reflect on what improvements we want to make in our lives. Most of us have no problem making a list of New Year’s resolutions, but what often trips us up is biting off more than we can chew when we resolve to follow through on those life changes.

This year, instead of attempting to go to the gym five days a week, why not take the stairs each day instead of the elevator and ease your way into the gym. And instead of cutting out all unhealthy snacks, try to drink more water and eat more fresh fruit.

Maybe your goal for 2011 is to help others. Hospitals, libraries, schools and community organizations need volunteers on a regular basis. For just a few hours a week you could really make a difference in the lives of others. Why not just resolve to help out once? Maybe if you have a good experience you will then want to make a more regular commitment.

Whatever your New Year’s resolutions are, just remember that consistent, small changes each day will result in an overall improvement in your life that you can be proud of one year from now.

Happy New Year!