Category Archives: Agriculture

“Feral hog apocalypse” triggers drastic, controversial action

hogFears of a “feral hog apocalypse” has prompted Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller to approve the use of a piggy pesticide.

As reported by CBS News, Commissioner Miller will employ the use of Kaput Feral Hog Lure, a bait food that is laced with warfarin. The drug—often used to exterminate rats—is prescribed in smaller doses by doctors to help prevent blood clots, and will target the more than 2.5 million feral hogs in Texas. According to the Austin American-Statesman, this invasive pig population cost an estimated $50 million a year to Texas agriculture interests, along with the untold damage to residential yards in suburban areas.

The move by the Agriculture commissioner, however, has caused uproar among Texas hunters.

“We don’t think poison is the way to go,” said Eydin Hansen, Vice President of the Texas Hog Hunters Association.

Hansen said that he prefers hunting and trapping methods in order to control the species due to the potential environmental impact. Hansen and other hunters across Texas, along with conservationists fear other animals may be exposed to toxin.

“If a hog dies, what eats it? Coyotes, buzzards…” said Hansen. “We’re gonna affect possibly the whole ecosystem.”

Miller, who says he is changing Texas agricultural rules to allow the use of the product, said Kaput presents a “minimal risk to other animals” because it requires much higher dosages to affect other wildlife populations or livestock. And as for the concerns of hunters, Miller said hunters would be able to tell if the feral hog has consumed Kaput because the fat will be a bright blue.

“It’s a dead giveaway,” said Miller, who said the product has won federal approval.

Texas A&M AgriLife Extension has not yet commented on the move. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department spokesman Steve Lightfoot said the agency had been consulted.

“These invasive animals destroy native habitats, indirectly impacting our state’s wildlife resources that rely on these habitats, and the department strongly supports and encourages feral hog control management practices,” he said.

“As for non-target species, we can’t speculate on the impacts to wildlife species should exposure or consumption take place because dose, dose frequency, body mass and species sensitivity will likely be highly variable. Studies have shown that individual animals, such as rodents and raptors, can be affected through primary and secondary consumption of warfarin.”

Officials in Louisiana are also considering usage of the product in the near future.

Texas Agriculture Commissioner weighs in on scales

farmers'+marketAs you were filling up the family car to head out of town on your summer road trip, you may have noticed that the gas pump at your local convenience store had a seal of approval from the Texas Agriculture Commission. This seal indicates that the pump has been registered and is continually regulated by the state, ensuring that you receive the proper amount of gas that you purchase.

What you might not know is that the Agriculture Commission regulates a host of items inside the convenience store, as well. Everything from bags of pecans to coffee beans are required by state law to be weighed by a certified scale. Alas, sometimes, the scales are tipped against the consumer, and they become victims of improperly weighted scales across a variety of industries, and are shorted on products for which they paid.

To combat this potential fraud, Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller quietly launched “Operation Maverick” a little over a year ago to rein in businesses that still need to register their instruments used to weigh goods for sale.

As first reported by the Texas Tribune, nearly 18,000 retailers in Texas, including grocery store chains, coffee houses, laundries and BBQ pits use scales to measure what they sell to the public.

The name of the agency’s effort comes from the term used to describe a cow that has left the herd.

“We are rounding up strays,” explained Agriculture Commission spokesman Mark Loeffler. He explained to the Tribune that the agency believes that a significant amount of new businesses don’t know they have to register a scale with the state. Twenty years ago, most retailers bought scales from a small handful of providers that the agency tracked. But now that more people can buy measuring devices online, it has forced the agency to rethink its retailer education effort.

Since the launch of Operation Maverick in June of 2015, nearly 1,000 retailers and vendors have been given notification that they need to have their scales registered with the agency. Registration fees can range anywhere from $12 to $400 depending on the industry. And during Operation Maverick, retailers are not being fined for not having scales registered, instead they are simply being informed that they need to register, and are given a sticker of compliance for the implement when registration is complete.

In-season crop estimates agreement signed

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The Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Statistics Services (USDA-NASS) recently announced a cooperative agreement that will provide accurate statistics and timely crop estimates to Texas farmers.

According to a release from the TDA, the agreement will allow for in-season district-level estimates yield and production for Texas wheat, corn, cotton and sorghum crops. These estimates are used throughout the agriculture industry for resource management planning, transport decisions and marketing strategies. This is highly advantageous for agriculture producers across the state due to the strengthened reliability and availability of current crop data and trends. The electronic report will be posted to the Texas and Oklahoma USDA-NASS websites and provided to TDA as part of a monthly Crop Production Report.

The effort to create the partnership between the state and federal agencies was spearheaded by the Plains Cotton Growers, a Lubbock-based trade group that has represented the cotton industry in Texas for six decades.

“Texas is a large and diverse agricultural state,” said Johnie Reed, president of Plains Cotton Growers, Inc. “The ability to obtain district and county wide information derived from state data through this cooperative agreement is important to the agriculture industry. It provides the agriculture industry with more accurate information on planted and harvested acres, in addition to production and yield, which in many instances is utilized in federal farm programs and marketing and decision aid tools for producers. Plains Cotton Growers greatly appreciates this effort by TDA and USDA-NASS.”

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller praised the Plains Cotton Growers for facilitating the inter-agency meetings.

“These meetings ultimately lead to the creation of this new agreement,” said Miller. “I couldn’t be more pleased to see this partnership come to life.”

Lesser prairie chicken officially off endangered list

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Recently, the Obama administration said that it will not appeal the September 2015 and February 2016 U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas rulings that removed the lesser prairie chicken from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service endangered species list.

The Texas rulings found that Fish and Wildlife failed to make a proper evaluation of a multi-state conservation plan when it listed the lesser prairie chicken as “threatened”.

In 2014, the grouse species was listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act, one step below “endangered,” meaning that federal officials believed the bird would quickly be in danger of becoming extinct.

The birds range across sagebrush regions of five states, with about half of the current population living in Kansas. The other regions include Oklahoma, eastern portions of New Mexico, southeastern Colorado, and across the Texas panhandle, dipping into Val Verde County, south of I-10, and north of Del Rio. This area is squarely in the middle of significant ranching operations, and oil and gas and wind energy development in Texas.

Industry operators saw the placement of the chicken on the list as a direct threat to their livelihood, and claimed the listing would cost their operations millions of dollars. These individuals took action, joining together with the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) on the Lesser Prairie Chicken Range-wide Conservation Plan (LEPC RWP), and the Lesser Prairie Chicken Habitat Exchange. These organizations aimed to provide new incentives for industry to minimize and mitigate its impacts throughout the southern Great Plains region, and for private landowners to improve and expand habitats for the ground-dwelling bird and other native species.

According to the Habitat Exchange site, the Exchange allows industry to benefit from a predictable value for credits that can be purchased to offset the impacts of development, and a standard set of rules and regulatory assurances, even if a species is listed, to ensure that projects move forward. Through prescribed activities like managed grazing, converting marginal lands back to native grass and marking fences, industry became part of the solution to the conservation issue.

Due largely to these efforts, there is good news for the lesser prairie chicken. In it’s second annual report on the species to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, WAFWA, which oversees the LEPC RWP, said that the grouse species had another successful year in 2015.

In the report, WAFWA said the chicken’s range-wide population had increased by 25 percent to just more than 29,000 birds. Meanwhile, industry partners had committed nearly $51 million in fees to pay for mitigation actions, and landowners and operators across the multi-state range agreed to conserve more than 67,000 acres of habitat.

Industry leaders across Texas expressed their satisfaction with the news that there would not be an appeal by the Obama Administration.

“I am pleased the administration decided to drop their appeal of the 2015 federal district court decision that removed the lesser prairie chicken from the threatened list,” said Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association president Richard Thorpe.

“Ranchers across Texas and the Southwest are the best stewards of our nation’s land and have implemented successful conservation practices on their property,” he said. “Federal regulations only inhibit their ability to implement these practices and provide food and fiber for a rapidly increasing world population.”

Ben Shepperd, president of the Permian Basin Petroleum Association, told the Midland Reporter-Telegram, “We are extremely pleased and proud with the outcome. We feel vindicated that the court agreed with us that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had overstepped its authority in listing the lesser prairie chicken.”

Even with the news, U.S. Senator Pat Roberts (R-Kansas), who has long opposed listing the bird for federal protection, noted the Fish and Wildlife Service’s intention to reassess the bird’s status.

“We have certainly not seen the last of the Obama administration’s regulatory agenda,” Roberts told AP reporters.

Big Tex to Celebrate Texas Agriculture

16_theme_featThe State Fair of Texas will ring in its 130th year as a cultural institution in Dallas this fall. And to mark the start of its 13th decade, Fair officials have deemed that this year’s theme will reminisce upon the event’s beginnings as a livestock exposition with the theme “Celebrating Texas Agriculture.”

With less than 200 days until the opening of this year’s festivities, State Fair officials say that they have decided to acknowledge the significance of farming and ranching in Texas’ past, present and future. To do so, officials explained that the Fair would continue to promote agricultural growth through its large number of learning initiatives, from interactive exhibits explaining how Texas agriculture touches the lives of Texans every day to presentations explaining how food gets from farm to table. Additionally, through a variety of events including competitive livestock shows and leadership contests for youth among a host of other educational activities, Fair leaders have chosen to focus on educating guests about all the ways agriculture impacts the community, as well as our day-to-day routines.

“Although agriculture plays a key role in our daily lives, it is not something we often stop and think about – especially those of us living in urban areas like Dallas,” explained State Fair of Texas President Mitchell Glieber in a statement. “With fairgoers coming from both urban and rural backgrounds, we strive to promote agriculture to all visitors through our educational opportunities that are as enjoyable as they are informative.”

The 2016 State Fair of Texas will run Friday, September 30 through Sunday, October 23 at historic Fair Park in Dallas. For more information, visit: www.bigtex.com.

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Texas Cattle Update

As reported by the Texas Farm Bureau via Drovers Cattle Network, the January cattle inventory survey said that the U.S. herd has grown for the second consecutive year. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the country started 2016 with 92 million cattle and calves, up 3.2% from a year earlier and the most cattle at the start of a year since 2011. The 3.2% increase is the biggest annual inventory increase since 1974. USDA lowered their estimate of the January 2015 cattle inventory by 657,000 head.

While the nationwide increase was a positive for the industry, ranchers and dairymen in eastern New Mexico and the Texas panhandle are still reeling from the early January winter storm Goliath that caused the deaths of tens of thousands of cattle. Dairy and beef cattle deaths totaled around 19,000 in Texas alone. The dairy and beef cattle industry continue to recover from the deadly winter storm, and industry experts are expected to know the nationwide impact from the losses in the coming days.

Gulf Coast

As Storm Season nears end, Texans look to future of storm, erosion protection

As Texans along the Gulf Coast count down to the end of what has been a relatively quiet hurricane and tropical storm season in 2015, leaders remain diligent about addressing one of the biggest issues caused by these storms: coastal erosion.

Besides the actual loss of land suffered by the Lone Star State, coastal erosion can have other harmful effects, including the loss of natural resources, threats to coastal developments and the possibility of damage to public infrastructure and refineries.

Texas has one of the highest rates of coastal erosion in the country, losing, on average, 235 acres of gulf shoreline each year. Approximately 234 miles, or 64 percent of Texas’ 367-mile coast is critically eroding, with the highest rate of erosion recoded on Matagorda Island at 46.2 feet per year. On average, the Texas Coast is eroding 4 feet per year.

In various reports over the past decade, the Texas General Land Office has said that the greatest cause of periodic coastal erosion is the effect of storms and hurricanes. With storm season officially ending on November 30, only one named storm—Tropical Storm Bill—has reached the Texas Coast. Bill made landfall on June 16 on Matagorda Island, and produced heavy rains from the central Texas Coast northward across eastern Texas, western Louisiana and southeastern Oklahoma. Many locations reported more than 10 inches of rainfall, and Ganado, Texas saw nearly 14 inches.

To stem the tide, the Texas Legislature in 1999 enacted the Coastal Erosion Planning & Response Act (CEPRA), with the goal of studying and reducing the effects of coastal erosion, and tasked the Texas General Land Office with the management of the program. Through collaboration and a matching funds partnership with local, state and federal governments, as well as private non-profit organizations, the GLO has developed numerous beach nourishment, shoreline stabilization and habitat restoration projects. Because of these efforts, the most recent CEPRA report to the 84th legislature found that Texas received $3.40 in economic and financial benefit for every dollar of state funding invested in these projects.

The most recent development in these partnerships came in late August of this year when the GLO, under the direction of Land Commissioner George P. Bush, came to an agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to develop the Coastal Texas Protection and Restoration Feasibility Study. According to the GLO, the study will investigate the feasibility of projects for flood reduction, hurricane and storm damage mitigation and ecosystem restoration along the entire Texas coast. The goal of the agreement is to formulate a plan to better protect the 7.1 million Texans along the Gulf Coast, and expedite recovery after a tropical storm or hurricane.

Commissioner Bush also noted the importance of protecting Texas’ energy production along the coast, as Texas hosts more than one-quarter of the nation’s total refining capacity.

“The Texas Coast powers the nation,” Bush said in a statement. “Its vulnerability should be considered a national security issue. By working together as a region—combining and coordinating local, state and federal resources—we will directly address ongoing threats to the Texas coast for future generations.”

For more information on the Texas Coast, visit Texas A&M’s Institute for Sustainable Coastal Communities “Coastal Communities Planning Atlas”, the most comprehensive online, interactive database ever compiled about the Texas Coast by clicking here.

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Thirty years later, farmer regains land from BLM

Three decades after losing 94 acres of property that had been in his family since the Civil War in a dispute with the Bureau of Land Management, Clay County farmer Tommy Henderson regained his acreage, and many landowners along the Red River have taken note.

Henderson’s property is a small portion of the long-disputed 30,000 acres that span 116 miles along the Texas/Oklahoma border. Federal officials claim that the land has been under federal control since the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Landowners, however, say that the feds have only surveyed around 6,500 acres, and used methods that differ greatly from the accepted gradient boundaries survey method established by the Supreme Court in the 1920s. In addition, landowners along the stretch hold deeds to and continue to pay taxes on the land they and their families have worked for generations.

For Henderson, the boundary dispute that had dragged on since 1984 came to a favorable end in early August after he had worked with the Texas Farm Bureau, Clay County officials, representatives from the BLM and U.S. Representative Mac Thornberry (R-Clarendon). At the Clay County Courthouse, Henderson signed a federal patent for the land, actually purchasing the land for $1 per acre under a “Color of Title” stipulation that enables landowners the chance to purchase after showing a clear title, payment of taxes, improvements and “good faith” possession. Henderson was encouraged after the diligent struggle, claiming that his case will help his neighboring landowners.

“This blazes the trail,” he said. “I hope it will help remove a cloud that’s been over these titles.”

Congressman Thornberry was also satisfied and encouraged by the event.

“It is good that Mr. Henderson was finally able to get back a portion of his land that he lost in the 1980s, but it never should have happened in the first place,” Thornberry said.

Thornberry, who represents the 13th Congressional District of Texas that stretches from the Panhandle to the outskirts of the DFW Metroplex and spans the Texas side of the Red River, has strongly come down on the side of Texas landowners in their struggle with the BLM. He said he plans to continue to pursue legislation he and U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) filed to help protect these citizens and the land they hold dear.

“I am continuing to pursue legislation that I introduced with Sen. John Cornyn to protect private property rights and clear up the uncertainty that many landowners along the Red River currently face,” Thornberry said in a released statement.

The legislation, known as the Red River Private Property Protection Act, has been adjusted from the original bill filed during the last session of Congress following several town halls along the river and input from landowners. Officially known as H.R. 2130 in the U.S. House and S. 1153 in the U.S. Senate, the legislation aims to protect private property rights along the Red River from federal ownership claims. By providing legal certainty to landowners, the Act also seeks to end questions about the federal government’s ownership of other disputed land along the Red River. Landowners are applauding their local congressman’s efforts thus far.

“Mac did a good job about contacting everybody because it is going to take landowners participating in this process to make this work,” said Jimmy Smith, another landowner along the river who finds himself in a similar situation to Henderson. “If Mac can get this passed and get this through and surveyed by a private surveyor like he was talking about and they can get it done it, would alleviate the BLM from being in our backyards,” said Smith.

To follow the legislation as it works through the 113th U.S. Congress, click here.

Texans push back against federal overreach in challenging WOTUS ruling

© Freeimages.com
© Freeimages.com

A host of organizations, including the Texas Farm Bureau, recently challenged a ruling that would expand the scope of influence of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ control of the “waters of the U.S.” in a federal district court in Galveston.

The parties contend that the ruling grants the EPA and the Corps broad control of farmland use, and goes beyond what Congress intended in the Clean Water Act. The finalized WOTUS rule was published in the Federal Register at the end of June and is set to take effect on August 28.

“This is an astonishing overreach of federal regulatory power,” TFB President Russell Boening said. “It’s clear Congress never intended EPA’s regulatory power to extend beyond truly navigable waters.”

The EPA claims that the ruling was made in an effort to clarify the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act, and that these worries were nonsensical. But while many legal teams are racing to figure out the actual impact of the ruling on their respective industry, outside observers see the issue at the heart of the concern.

“No land or water is beyond the reach of the federal government, never mind the traditional understanding of private property or state and local control of land use,” former U.S. Representative Larry Combest (R-Texas) said in a statement. “Farmers, ranchers, dairymen, and others, on and off the farm, are in a widespread panic with the finalization of this rule because not only does it allow the EPA onto their land, but it throws the gate wide open to environmental group-led citizen lawsuits that promise to carry the rule’s reach beyond what even the EPA had envisioned.”

Texas farmers are not the only ones at odds with the ruling. Nationally, 27 states have filed comparable suits against the EPA. The Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi lawsuit label the WOTUS rule “an unconstitutional and impermissible expansion of federal power over the states and their citizens and property owners.”

The Republican-led Congress may have one solution for farmers and other industry leaders. Bills that would kill the WOTUS ruling have already been introduced in each chamber, and the House Bill has already been passed. The Senate Bill has yet to come up for a vote. In addition, there is also a provision in the appropriations bill that would take away the funding for enforcement of the ruling, which some believe to be a likely outcome.

To read the American Farm Bureau’s analysis of the ruling, click here.

 

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Recent rains lift boats, but drought remains unbroken

The onslaught of late winter rain, sleet and snow made many North Texans feel as though they should begin the process of constructing an ark and start searching for two of each animal. But while reservoir levels got a significant boost, officials say the drought conditions in North Texas remain unbroken, but had improved.

According to officials from the North Texas Municipal Water District, the two lakes that service nearly 2 million residents in the region, Jim Chapman Lake and Lake Lavon, were up 7 feet and 5 feet, respectively. This raised the capacity of Chapman from 55 percent capacity to 65.5, and Lavon from 59 percent to 65.7 percent capacity.

Good news on a broader scale came from the Office of the Texas State Climatologist, with reports that the percentage of Texas not under drought conditions increased from 38.75% last week to 42.15% during the first part of March.

While the precipitation has given a modest boost to reservoirs, for farmers across Texas, the recent rains were almost too much of a good thing. With few warm, sunny days to dry out fields, the planting of many spring crops were further delayed. According to compiled reports from Texas A&M AgriLife Extension writer Robert Burns, while wheat was doing well, producers were anxious to plant corn in Central Texas. Burns also reported that East Texas was particularly saturated, to the point where some livestock were getting stuck in the mud and had to be towed out.

For the full report from the AgriLife Extension, click here.