Monday, March 26, 2012

Texas Drought Losses Top $8 Billion

The news was unwelcome, but hardly unexpected when the Texas AgriLife Extension Service recently reported 2011 Texas agricultural losses of $7.62 billion attributed to the recent historical drought, plus an additional $558 million from standing timber losses.

When you’re one of the top agricultural producing states in the nation, you not only supply food and fiber to our population, but are a major exporter around the country and globe. Retail food prices to consumers have increased due to the lower domestic supply and increased global demand.  Right here at home, the damage this has caused to family farms and communities cannot be overstated.  It was a punishing blow, but Texas agricultural producers have proved time and again they won’t go down without a fight.

To view news coverage of the drought loss reports, go here

Monday, March 12, 2012

Mandates vs. Opportunities

As the final accounting for 2011 draws to a close, the U.S. Treasury Department will report that gasoline and diesel refiners paid roughly $6.8 million in penalties because they failed to blend their fuel with federally-required levels of cellulosic ethanol. Why did these refiners allegedly ignore Congress’ mandate to blend approximately 250 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol into their fuel for 2011?  It’s pretty simple, because there’s not enough of the product.

Despite some promising lab results, cellulosic ethanol is not in commercial production and nowhere near reaching your corner gas pump. In fact, it barely exists at all. How much more out of touch can our federal mandates get? I’m afraid to find out.

Possibly foreseeing the painful scenario, that often results when government tries to manipulate the marketplace, Congress allowed the Environmental Protection Agency to adjust the renewable fuel standards to better align consumption mandates and production capability. EPA revised the mandates, reducing the artificial demand for non-existent cellulosic ethanol to 6.6 million gallons for 2011 and 8.65 million gallons for 2012, far short of the 500 million gallons originally envisioned by Congress. Correct me if I’m wrong, but reducing the requirement for something that doesn’t exist does not make it magically appear.

The money paid in fines may be put to good use, however, when it helps repay the federal deficit from failed investments in cellulosic ethanol companies now in bankruptcy or mothballed due to technology failures.

There is a solution, however, in the form of a very different biofuel that is readily available and produced right here in Texas: biodiesel. Action by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality removed a mandate requirement on costly fuel additives that had limited growth of the biodiesel market and raised the end costs to consumers. This change provides consumers with a less expensive product and one that is actually rooted in reality. Perhaps it is time to take advantage of existing opportunities rather than paying penalties for Congress’ unrealistic mandates.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Go For Gold During National School Breakfast Week

As people worldwide anticipate the Summer 2012 Olympic Games, Texas schools are getting an early jump on the excitement during the 2012 School Breakfast Week, March 5 - 9. Taking the national “Go for Gold” theme a step further, Texas is challenging children to participate in the weeklong Breakfast Olympics, which encourages physical activity alongside healthy breakfast choices.

This week, I visited Norman Elementary School in Austin and enjoyed meeting students, teachers, administrators and the nutrition staff. It was clear, the Norman Tigers are committed to going the extra mile to eat healthy and to win in the classroom and in life.  I appreciate the hospitality of all of those at the school.

Every school day, Texas serves breakfast to about 1.6 million children through the federally funded school breakfast program. Studies have shown that children who eat breakfast perform better in school and on the field of play. They also are more likely to develop healthy eating habits that will follow them into adulthood. Unfortunately, poor nutrition equals chronic diseases that ultimately cost big dollars.  These costs are avoidable if we reinforce the importance of making good choices.

By embracing the 3E’s of Healthy Living — Education, Exercise and Eating Right — our children are better prepared to fight the growing obesity epidemic and less likely to be a burden on our nation’s health care system.

More than 3,400 Texas schools have pledged to participate in School Breakfast Week. For the sake of individual health and the future health of Texas, I encourage those students and their parents to make a nutritious breakfast part of the daily run for the gold. 

To see more about my visit to Norman Elementary, click here for news coverage of the event. 

Thanks To Our Farmers And Ranchers On National Agriculture Day

When I travel across the state and speak to groups of people, I often will ask, “How many of you are involved in agriculture?” Usually only few hands go up. I then ask, “How many of you are planning to eat today?” That’s when it starts to set in and people begin to understand agriculture is part of their everyday lives.

Today is National Agriculture Day, a time to celebrate our farmers, ranchers and other food producers. American farmers are more productive and efficient than ever before. According to the Texas Farm Bureau, each producer feeds 155 people in the U.S. and abroad. In 1960, the average farmer fed 46 people.

Our farmers and ranchers are responsible for providing us with the most abundant, most affordable and safest food supply in the world. The Texas agriculture industry employs one in seven working Texans and brings in, on average, more than $100 billion each year to the economy of our great state. I ask all Texans to take time and thank our farmers and ranchers by buying products from right here in the Lone Star State, and choosing those with the GO TEXAN mark.
It can be easy to take agriculture for granted in America, because our food is readily accessible and safe. For this, we are extremely fortunate, which gives us even more reason to recognize those who make it possible.

To our Texas farming and ranching families, I send my thanks and salute you for the hard work and commitment you put in each and every day to ensure we have food available whenever it’s time to eat.

Friday, March 2, 2012

A Hard-Won Texas Independence

Rugged individualism is a proud Texas trademark, but it sure didn’t happened by accident.

To the contrary, the roots of our Texas pride can be traced back to the Brazos River in Washington County where our brave forefathers and pioneering families declared our independence from Mexico and backed it up with fierce fighting and ultimate sacrifice. The date was March 2, 1836, and it marked the birth of a new republic that grew to be the greatest state in our nation.

The fears and unknowns were many on this date 176 years ago, but they could not overcome the underlying sense of determined certainty. Our earliest Texans were certain they wanted better lives for future generations. They were certain they wanted their own government. They were certain they could succeed.

From legendary heroes like Sam Houston, Stephen F. Austin, Lorenzo de Zavala and Davy Crockett to the lesser-known men, women and children who supported them, our founders were equals in courage, grit and fortitude.

Mention Texas anywhere in the world and people immediately take interest. They may call it Texas mystique or Wild West mythology, but I prefer to call it true grit that would not settle. Their goal was achieved: a hard-won Texas Independence.

Happy Texas Independence Day and may God continue to bless the Lone Star State.