Friday, September 28, 2012

The Big 4-0 at Texas’ Biggest Show

One of my favorite dates on the calendar each year is the opening of the State Fair of Texas in Dallas. For more than 125 years, this world-famous, month-long event has welcomed millions of visitors to enjoy top-notch entertainment, shopping, educational exhibits and, of course, food with a Texas twist.

This year, I’m especially proud and excited as the Texas Department of Agriculture’s Food and Fiber Pavilion celebrates its 40th anniversary at the State Fair. The Food and Fiber Pavilion, sponsored by Southwest Dairy, is a 25,000-square-foot facility packed with GO TEXAN vendors promoting the products, culture and communities of the Lone Star State. From food and wine tastings to live entertainment, interactive exhibits and shopping, the Food and Fiber Pavilion offers hours of family fun under one Texas-sized roof.

The Pavilion also offers eye-opening insight into the countless ways Texas’ $100 billion agriculture industry impacts our daily lives. More than just cows, corn and cotton, the products of agriculture can be found in such everyday items as toothpaste, plastics, medicine, cosmetics, construction materials and many other things. In other words, as the name of one of our Pavilion exhibits makes clear, “Agriculture is Your Culture.”

The State Fair of Texas opens today and runs through Oct. 21. I hope you and your family will visit and say howdy. For more information, go here.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

National Group of State Ag Commissioners Votes to Support Legal Workforce Reform, Border Security

After much work, an important step toward revamping America’s failed immigration system and securing our porous border has been achieved. A strong and focused policy proposal for border security and legal workforce reform was adopted by the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) at its annual meeting in Des Moines, Iowa.

As chairman of NASDA's Border Security and Immigration Reform Task Force, I have worked closely with my fellow state commissioners, secretaries and directors of agriculture from all over the country to put forth a plan Congress can work with to address serious issues in providing a documented and reliable workforce for agriculture producers while addressing the needs of those producers being threatened on their land by transnational criminal organizations.

More than a year ago, I authored a proposal and we have had numerous fruitful debates and discussions on what needs to be done. The give and take in the process resulted in a proposal that will not only sustain our domestic food supply, but also will help America stay competitive in the global marketplace by employing a legal, reliable workforce.

A point I pushed is that granting amnesty to workers who have entered the United States illegally is not the solution. In contrast, our proposal will continue to support our nation’s longstanding pathway to legal citizenship only for those who have chosen to follow the rules.

Congress has failed our economy by allowing the issue of legal workforce reform to be caught up in and delayed by a debate over citizenship. Citizenship is a privilege that is afforded to individuals who follow the rules of a long-defined process. If those individuals are workers who have accessed this country legally, then we welcome their participation in that process. But hear me clearly: Documenting the workforce needed by our businesses has nothing to do with citizenship, and everything to do with protecting our economy.

That’s why our plan also provides the workforce needed to maintain our status as a world leader in agricultural production. It calls for more thorough worker background checks and ongoing identification monitoring while also levying harsher penalties for hiring violations and illegal entry. Our porous border with Mexico has exacerbated the problem of illegal immigration and workforce violations for far too long. Border security can be greatly expedited by legal workforce reform and done in a manner that strengthens border security. Local law enforcement resources are consumed by the violent drug cartels and illegal entries for jobs, and a verifiable documentation system for workers our economy demands will help.

While the ongoing failure of our federal government to secure our border has been a point of frustration for me and many others, it’s validating and reassuring to know immigration reform is a matter all 50 states take seriously. Now with a unified voice, we can urge Congress to take action to implement these critical reforms.

To read the approved immigration reform plan, go here.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Enjoy Your Entrée With A Side Of Facts

It is important to separate sensationalism from the facts.

A recent Consumer Reports study has created some alarming headlines about rice. However, the fact is, rice is consumed by billions of people each day and according to the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and various food safety experts, rice remains an important and nutritious staple of a healthy diet.

In fact, initial analysis from an ongoing FDA study examining arsenic levels in rice suggests there is no scientific reason to limit the consumption of rice and rice products by adults or children. The FDA says consumers should continue eating a balanced diet that includes rice and a variety of grains. Simply put, there is no need to stop eating rice.

I am confident the FDA is doing everything to ensure the food we feed our  families is safe. The United States continues to have the safest and most abundant food supply in the world. An affordable, abundant and reliable food supply produced right here in the United States of America  is essential to meet the nutritional needs of our people and critical for a robust economy. 

For more information about FDA’s analysis of rice and rice products click here or check out USA Rice’s arsenic facts at

Fall Weather Brings Relief, Fun

They say if you can’t stand the heat then you need to get out of the kitchen, but that’s easier said than done in Texas where summer feels like an oven.

Lake Bob Sandlin State Park
Sure, we complain about the triple-digit temperatures and pray for rain in times of drought, but deep down inside there’s really no other place a Texan would rather call home.

As much I love the Lone Star State and the heat that comes with the territory, I must confess my enthusiasm for the annual onset of fall. The cooler temperatures, turning of leaves and weekends of hunting and football are all as eagerly awaited in Texas as summertime swims and backyard barbecues.

Fall is also a great time to enjoy rural Texas. Drive out to a pumpkin patch, try your luck finding your way through a crop maze and enjoy a hay ride. Rural Texas offers lots of fun activities during this special season so venture out and start a new family tradition.

Fall officially starts this weekend and so do the seasonal rituals that come along with it. It may take me a while to find my jacket, but when I do, it’s as welcome as my boots and blue jeans when it returns to the front of my closet.

Enjoy the cooler temperatures, Texas. The heat will return soon enough.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

One Small Step for Man, One Giant Leap for Mankind!

Endeavour makes its way over the Capitol at approximately 7:35 a.m
Texans were treated to a front row view of the Space Shuttle Endeavour as she raced above the Texas Capitol this morning on her way to her final landing in California.

Our nation’s manned space program has evolved from capsules to shuttles in the span of my lifetime. Brave men and women worked tirelessly to “boldly go where no man has gone before,” and brought together a country focused on our future. Astronauts persevered through tragedy to triumph as they advanced our space exploration initiatives and achieved astonishing scientific breakthroughs.

Above: Commissioner Staples captures Texas pride and American ingenuity.
Below: Endeavour bids farewell to Austin on its way to California.

These pictures were taken from my office on the top floor of the Stephen F. Austin state office building in downtown Austin. I think these images are somewhat fitting when you consider Stephen F. Austin symbolizes a pioneering spirit and the birth of the Republic of Texas, and the Endeavour symbolizes a new generation advancing the pioneering spirit of 1492, 1776 and 1836.
Although the Endeavour made its last journey today, her voyage is a celebration of what has been − and a reminder of what is possible. Onward!  

Monday, September 17, 2012

Texas Delegation Pushes to Bring Much-Needed Water Back to Lone Star State

It takes an act of Congress...

I want to thank Sen. John Cornyn for introducing a Senate bill that would allow water pumping to resume from Lake Texoma. Pumping was halted back in the summer of 2009 due to the invasive zebra mussels.

Kudos also goes to longtime Congressman Ralph Hall of Rockwall, Texas , who initially authored the same bill in the House, where it was passed by a voice vote.

More than 1.6 million North Texans have been staring at the bottom of the barrel for some time, because the presence of this invasive species meant water from Lake Texoma was off-limits to the people of the Metroplex. In a state that has suffered for years under drought conditions, losing access to 25 percent of your water supply is a devastating blow. The water in Lake Texoma is a valuable resource for Texas residents, businesses and agriculture producers.

Zebra mussels were first discovered in the Great Lakes region in the 1980s and have slowly, but surely, made their way to Texas. Like its name suggests, Lake Texoma sprawls along the Texas/Oklahoma border, however an even more invasive federal law has kept Texans from utilizing their share of the water. The intake for the lake’s pump station is located across state lines in Oklahoma, and under current law, the presence of zebra mussels would make moving the water that essentially belongs to Texas, a federal offense.

This goes to show how ridiculous some of the federal environmental regulations have become. It’s just not common sense to cut off water to 1.6 million people with the misguided notion of regulating the spread of a mussel species.

Preserving natural resources should not result in persecuting humans. That’s just wrong.

Luckily, Texas leaders in Washington have the good sense to fight the restrictions on Lake Texoma and are trying to get the water flowing back to Texas communities. I applaud the members of the Texas delegation and encourage them to keep up their work to bring reason back to our nation’s natural resources policies.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Mourning and Courage on 9/11

On one of the darkest anniversaries in our nation’s history, we remember the nearly 3,000 lives lost in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. New York City was ground zero, but the scars still run deep throughout America and around the world. Like Pearl Harbor or the assassinations of President Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., the day bonds us all in shock and horror as we recall precisely where we were and what we were doing when the tragic news left us breathless and hollow. 

Sept. 11 will forever be a day of mourning, but it also is a time to remember the heroes. While the images of the crumbling Twin Towers, smoldering Pentagon and debris-strewn Shanksville field are impossible to shake, so too are the pictures of courage. It takes a special courage to run into a burning building looking for total strangers who are trapped or injured. It takes tireless dedication to provide 24/7 care and comfort to those who experience the oncoming waves of hurt and pain. It takes steadfast resolve and unflinching cool to command order in the face of chaos.

To those who lost loved ones on this fateful day, I send my prayers and wish you peace. To those who risked all to help others, I commend your bravery and loyalty to humanity. To those who deployed to hostile territories to protect us from another 9/11, I salute you and pray for your safe return. And finally, to those who conducted, carried out or support further terroristic atrocities against our nation and fellow Americans, I pray you receive the just recompense for your ill-conceived and cowardly crimes. 

On Sept. 11 and every day, may God bless our heroes, our lost loved ones, our troops and the United States of America. We will never forget.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Monsanto Helps Grow Rural Texas Schools

Nine rural Texas school districts will start the academic year with a boost thanks to the “America’s Farmers Grow Rural Education” grants sponsored by the Monsanto fund. Each district will receive up to $25,000 toward innovative school projects.

Hand-picked from a competitive field of applicants from across the nation were the independent school districts of Hillsboro, Memphis, Dalhart, Levelland, Southland, Ira, Wall, Edna and Brownsville. These rural school districts represent nine of 176 nationwide winners. Some of the Texas projects to receive funding include: the construction of a greenhouse and the purchase of graphing calculators, electronic textbooks and various programs to help increase student scores on college entrance exams.

Farmers across the country participate in this initiative by nominating school districts. We often thank farmers for providing our families with an abundance of food and fiber, but today we also offer our gratitude for helping grow our nation’s future leaders.

Congratulations to the chosen school districts for representing the Lone Star State and thanks also to Monsanto for generously investing in our nation’s farm communities.

To view a full list of grant winners and learn more about the “America’s Farmers Grow Rural Education” program, visit

Monday, September 3, 2012

A Labor Day Salute to Hardworking Texans

It can be difficult to see the glass as half full when talking about the economy, but Texans are faring better than most.

Along with our can-do attitude, Texas has long fostered an economic landscape that favors low taxes, reasonable regulations and a comparatively low cost of living. These attributes have helped Texas attract businesses and grow jobs even during tough times. In fact, July marked two years of consecutive job growth in the Lone Star State, which helped keep our unemployment rate around 7 percent compared to the national average that hovers near 8 percent.

Texas also was recently named America’s Top State for Business in 2012, according to CNBC. Since the survey began in 2007, Texas has claimed the top spot twice and never dipped below No. 2. The survey cited our workforce, economy, technology and cost of living among other qualities landing Texas at the top.

Yes, there is room for improvement. And yes, we must close the gap between the unemployed and the self-sufficient. Fortunately in Texas, that gap is narrower than it is in other states. Focusing on the merits of labor is fitting as we honor all whose work propels our economy. 

If you’re enjoying a break from your job this Labor Day, I thank you for your daily efforts to better yourself, your family and our great state. If you’re working hard to find work today, I offer my encouragement and commend you for being motivated to be part of the solution instead of the problem.

Let’s keep our spirits up, our goals in focus and our collective work ethic strong. Together as hardworking Texans, we will continue to lead our nation on the road to economic recovery. Happy Labor Day, Texas!