Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Dallas School Gets an ‘A’ for Promoting 3E’s

I was happy to learn recently that one Texas school is going the extra mile in embracing the 3E’s of Healthy Living - Exercise, Education and Eating Right.

The team at A+ Academy Charter School in south Dallas is delivering this message straight to their students. This picture of the cafeteria bulletin board is a good example of the commitment of Cafeteria Manager Doreen Gisler and Child Nutrition Director Judy Jones to helping improve the health of the 1,092 students at the school.

It’s great to see nutrition professionals going out of their way to teach Texas children the value of living a healthy lifestyle. I urge all parents, teachers, coaches and other role models to adopt a similar enthusiasm for the health of our next generation.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Presidents' Day

Today is Presidents’ Day, and while it’s a welcome day off for many, we should remember why this day is so important, and cherish the legacy of two of our greatest presidents whom the day honors: George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

They were very different men. Washington was a war hero who led our country through its birth, kept the American Army together through the darkest days of the revolution, and emerged as our first president. He was bold in action, but quiet and reserved when it came to public policy. Similarly, Abraham Lincoln led our nation through its second darkest hour. Unlike Washington however, Lincoln was never much of a military man, yet he was faced with the nightmare of the Civil War from the very moment his presidency began. But Lincoln possessed the gift of oratory, and a deep courage and conviction, which helped him face adversity. He persevered, found new strength, won the war, and freed the slaves.

George Washington and Abraham Lincoln were great leaders because they saw that true leadership is defined by service before self, country before compensation, people before power. They dedicated their lives to the service of others, suffered greatly for the sake of this country, and died worthy of the respect of the nation.

Enjoy this holiday, spend time with your family, but remember what has given you the freedom to do so. The freedoms and prosperity we enjoy today are owed in great part to such men.

Friday, February 18, 2011

EPA Proposes Wrong Policy at the Worst Time

I couldn’t agree more with this op-ed column written by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, in which she rightly describes the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed climate change regulations as the “wrong policy at the worst time.”

With U.S. unemployment still hovering at 9 percent, any EPA mandate that would send needed jobs overseas while increasing energy costs for consumers and businesses is clearly misguided.

Let’s hope this latest round of EPA proposals meets the same fate as the cap-and-trade policy rejected by Congress last year. Our jobs, economy and food supply depend on it.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Texas Delegation Speaks Up on Capitol Hill

Commissioner Staples speaks with Rep. Francisco “Quico” Canseco

Wednesday was a busy and productive day as we took a break from our National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) meetings to visit Capitol Hill. I had the valuable opportunity to meet with some fellow Texans who are working hard for the Lone Star State and our nation.

I met with nearly a dozen of our Texas Congressional delegation, including Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn. Along with visiting with many of our senior members of our House delegation, I talked with Representatives Bill Flores and Francisco “Quico” Canseco who are experiencing their first session. Topics of conversation ranged from the Environmental Protection Agency’s overbearing greenhouse gas regulations to the pending and much-needed free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama.

Not surprisingly, my Texas colleagues also were particularly impassioned about the ongoing discussions regarding a cross-border trucking resolution with Mexico and the dire need for federal enforcement to help secure our borders and protect the families of our farmers and ranchers who live under the constant threat of violence from Mexican drug cartels.

Obviously, these kinds of discussions and debates tend to draw lines in the sand between Texas and Washington -- which is exactly why NASDA is so important. By uniting and rallying support for our vital Texas and U.S. agriculture industries, we can speak louder and clearer to our leaders in Washington on behalf of consumers, farmers and ranchers. Let’s hope they listen.

I know our Texas Congressional delegation is listening and I appreciate them taking the time to visit with me. I’d like to thank my NASDA colleagues for joining me this week in Washington to speak up on these important issues. Together we will be heard.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Texas Trading Partners Await Response from D.C.

In a show of support to expand Texas and U.S. exports while enhancing global free trade and goodwill, two action items I introduced yesterday at the Marketing & International Trade Forum during the annual National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) conference in Washington D.C. were adopted. This is encouraging news as these items move toward a final vote on Thursday.

At stake are policies that would greatly improve U.S. and Texas trade relations with Mexico, South Korea, Colombia and Panama. In the case of Mexico, we hope to improve Mexican trucking safety standards while easing the mutual passage of exports between the United States and our neighbor south of the border. In doing so, we can abolish outdated retaliatory Mexican tariffs that currently penalize American exports. It only makes sense to re-establish harmonious cross-border trucking relations with one of our closest neighbors – especially when you consider this was a commitment the U.S. made in the 1990s. And the recent talk among NASDA representatives seems to indicate a majority is in agreement that the administration and Congress should move promptly toward this resolution.

The same seems to be true with regard to South Korea, Colombia and Panama who are waiting with welcome arms to embrace more quality U.S. and Texas products. A NASDA representative from South Korea went so far yesterday as to call American farmers the most productive, proficient and profitable in the world. An endorsement like that sounds like an opportunity to me, and as demand for American exports increases in South Korea, Colombia and Panama, I urge our administration and Congress to seize these opportunities on behalf of U.S. and Texas farmers, as well as our nation’s economy. The negotiating work has already been done, and our economy supports opening these markets to our product. Why should Washington delay this progress?

With so much at stake in Thursday’s vote, I’m encouraged to see my fellow NASDA representatives working together to create opportunities for a brighter future for Texas and U.S. exports. Let’s hope our federal government will join us in doing the same.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Telling the Texas Story in D.C.

I flew into Washington Dulles International Airport yesterday to begin a busy week working with our nation’s leaders on a wide range of issues from environmental regulation to international trade. My message will be shared with our Texas Congressional delegation and my counterparts from across the country at the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA).

It makes me proud to serve the interests of Texas on the national stage. As a leading force in U.S. agriculture, Texas is a major player in shaping domestic and foreign policies that will impact not only farmers and ranchers, but also consumers who rely on their products to feed, cloth and shelter their families.

One topic of great debate at NASDA and on Capitol Hill is the influence of federal policies on the environment and our Texas border. From my perspective, the federal government is meddling too much in the former and not doing enough to secure the latter.

Maybe the federal government should reorganize its priorities to focus less on environmental overreach and more on citizen protective outreach. Texans deserve it, and I plan to fight for it at NASDA this week. Look for more on my efforts to limit environmental regulation and expand international trade as the week wears on.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Protecting Our Home and Land

Government’s No. 1 priority is to protect its citizens. However, Washington is failing to enforce policies that would secure our border in Texas. Recently, the El Paso Times published an opinion I wrote over the failure of our U.S. Homeland Security Secretary to understand the gravity of the situation in South Texas, where drug cartels are terrorizing our families. I hope you take time to read the article and join me in encouraging the current administration in Washington to fulfill its duties to all Americans by securing our borders.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Get the Hog Outta Texas

In Texas, more than 2 million feral hogs cause an estimated $400 million in damages each year. This problem extends beyond rural areas and into urban locations where damage is being done to yards, parks, automobiles and other property. The problem is so widespread, in fact, that I declared October 2010 “Hog Out Month” and challenged 254 Texas counties to “Get the Hog Outta Texas!” through various eradication initiatives.

More recently, the Dallas area stepped up its hog eradication efforts as the cities of Irving, Fort Worth and Arlington have had enough of the hogs gone wild in their neighborhoods. Residents and animal control teams have invested a lot of hard work to try and remedy the situation, but the hogs reproduce at staggering rates. Fortunately, we have people striving for better answers.

Texas Wildlife Services State Director Mike Bodenchuk has probably sat through more meetings on how to battle feral hogs than anyone in Texas. He has partnered with the Texas Department of Agriculture over the last several years and is certainly Texas’ resident expert on this issue.

A report from Dallas news station WFAA details how much closer we are to a workable solution that may one day transfer control from the hoof of the hog back to the hands of the people. To view the video, go here.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Crucial Eminent Domain Reform Passes Senate Committee

After testifying today to the Senate State Affairs Committee on behalf of private property owners in Texas, I’m happy to hear the committee passed SB 18, by Senator Craig Estes.

Private property owners’ rights are fundamental to our free market system, and protection of those rights is vital to the continued economic vitality of the Lone Star State. Growth is welcome in Texas, but it is imperative that we correct the gross injustice that is currently allowing homeowners and landowners to be taken advantage of during eminent domain negotiations.

SB 18 builds on other legislation such as Proposition 11, which created a constitutional limit on governments’ ability to take private property for non-public uses, and was approved by 81 percent of Texas voters in 2009. SB 18 requires fair compensation and establishes a buy-back provision for land that is taken, but then not used by the acquirer.

I want to thank Senator Estes, as well as Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Governor David Dewhurst, for their leadership in this area.

Remember: You don’t mess with Texans and SB 18 reassures you don’t mess with Texans’ land!

You can read my full testimony here.

Egyptian Unrest Creates Concerns For All

As violent protests escalate among Egyptian citizens, we are reminded just how much our agricultural markets here in Texas are affected by such events taking place far from our borders.

Egypt is the second largest export destination for Texas wheat and an important market for U.S. agricultural products valued at nearly $1.5 billon in 2009. Egypt is also an important transportation hub for the world’s oil supply with 2.1 million barrels per day passing through its canal and pipelines. That’s the equivalent of about 11 percent of the U.S. daily oil consumption. With Egypt’s Suez Canal being a critical passageway for items that both our countries use on a daily basis, the possibility of a disruption stands to increase the cost of consumer goods, such as fuel for U.S. consumers, and wheat that we produce and sell to other countries.

Times like these remind us how dependent we are on the global free market principles that enable us to continue efficient movement of those commodities we need and rely on daily. Egypt may be half a world away, but its well-being hits home in many critical ways. And very importantly, the basic profitability of most of our farmers and ranchers is dependent upon access to stable foreign markets for their products. Let's hope this transition is a smooth one.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Protecting Our Ports Safeguards Our Food

Food safety generates big headlines and news reports, and consumers have rightfully gained a heightened sense of awareness regarding contamination and foodborne illnesses. While it’s understandable these stories cause concern, we must remember the reason they’re brought to light is because our country has rigid safeguards in place to intercept contamination and other problems before they become widespread public health concerns. Frankly, I’d be more concerned if these stories didn’t make the news.

When we discuss food safety, it’s important to remember the diligent work being done by both federal and state inspectors at our country’s ports of entry. These dedicated public servants protect consumers, taxpayers and our vital agriculture industry every day by detecting and deterring pests and diseases that threaten our domestic food supply. They also make it possible for Texas and the United States to play on the world stage by competing for export markets and the jobs they create.

This short story from details how "one of the world's most destructive pests" was detected and quarantined before it could enter the United States through Galveston. News stories like this remind us that when food sources are jeopardized through human or natural contamination, our consumers and economic competitiveness are the ultimate victims. They also serve as reminders that America enjoys the world’s safest, most affordable and most abundant food supply in the world. I commend the United States’ port inspectors for their commitment to protecting our nation.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

King Cotton Shares the Wealth

Cotton has always been king in Texas, but the industry reached a crowning new achievement in January as growers earned record-high prices for their crops.

Thanks to a combination of hard work, favorable weather and growing global demand, U.S. cotton growers have enjoyed record-high prices since November, and in late-January prices, the March 2011 futures contract closed at nearly $1.70 per pound! This milestone marks a 140-year high and comes as welcome news to Texas farmers and the Lone Star economy.

Fortunately, consumers also have reason to cheer. Despite a strengthened demand for quality Texas cotton, retail prices on jeans, T-shirts and other goods are projected to remain steady. Why? The reality is cotton farmers only receive a small slice of the value of the finished product, which ultimately is priced to cover the costs of such other variables as advertising and shipping. It takes about one-and-a-half pounds of cotton to make a pair of jeans and at the current prices paid to farmers, there is only about $1.30 worth of cotton in that pair of jeans.

This double dose of good news for cotton and consumers is a win-win for all of Texas.