By Todd Staples, Texas Agriculture Commissioner
Texas agriculture faced one of its most difficult years in 2011. As the worst one-year drought blanketed the Lone Star State, farmers and ranchers were forced to reduce cattle herds and take losses on crops that yielded half their normal harvest.
Last year also threw many financial challenges at Texans. Despite the fact that Texas has been noted as a national leader in economic recovery, our Legislature was forced to make many reductions to crucial programs, including a state funding reduction of about 40 percent here at the Texas Department of Agriculture, which resulted in cuts or elimination of some programs.
In the wake of these decreases in funding and staff, we must continue to provide critical services to Texans, such as ensuring they get what they pay for at the pump and grocery store; helping farmers and ranchers expand operations to grow more food; assisting rural communities in enhancing economic opportunities; and ensuring schools serve nutritious meals to children.
Fortunately, we have a great team at TDA that is ready and willing to see these challenges as new opportunities that can be met with innovative solutions – new ideas and strategies that will enable us to better serve all Texans more efficiently and effectively. We demonstrated our ability to do this in 2011 when we began or enhanced several initiatives for Texans, including:
• Border Security – Especially in light of reduced government spending levels, we must remember that government’s primary responsibility is to protect its people. After hearing from many farmers and ranchers who had been threatened and even assaulted by dangerous Mexican drug cartels, I launched a website called, ProtectYourTexasBorder.com and commissioned two high ranking retired military Generals to conduct the study, “Texas Border Security: A Strategic Military Assessment,” that both include testimonies from Texas farmers and ranchers about the dangers they face due to our porous border. These efforts were started to garner the much-needed attention of our federal government and demonstrate a need for increased federal protection to secure our border and protect all Texans.
• Disaster Assistance – With last year’s drought killing most of the forage around the state and fueling an unprecedented number of wildfires, I instructed my team to enhance our Hay Hotline to better assist Texas ranchers in locating hay and utilize the State of Texas Agriculture Relief Fund (STAR Fund) to help ranchers, through private donations, rebuild fences that were destroyed by the wildfires. To date both are helping our state’s livestock producers hold on to their herds, which is important for our domestic food supply.
• Economic Assistance – With the legislatively-directed transfer of the Texas Department of Rural Affairs to TDA, our state has consolidated an array of federal assistance programs to help rural communities flourish. Additionally, our Young Farmer Grant Program made numerous awards to assist a younger generation of Texans in either creating or expanding farming operations to ensure an affordable and abundant domestic food supply.
Despite the trials and tribulations of 2011, we managed to ring in the New Year with more hope and anticipation. Rain again is falling on our great state; let’s pray we receive plenty more so our stock ponds fill up, crops sprout and dreams grow.