By Sid Miller
Texas Agriculture Commissioner
AUSTIN, Texas — If 2020 was the year from hell, it looks like 2021 is the year hell froze over.
Recent weeks have been very tough on Texans as multiple winter storms swept across the Lone Star State, dropping over 29 million Texans in the deep freeze. Millions endured a “white out”, with historic, blistering cold, record snowfall, dangerous ice, closed schools, shuttered businesses and even closed churches. More than 4 million Texans lost power, many had no water, no natural gas and dwindling food supplies. All in the midst of a pandemic. Remember COVID-19?
It’s been tough. But I have never been prouder to be a Texan.
Here in Texas, when a neighbor is in need, Texans step up to help. We’re here for our neighbors, to offer a hand up or at least a shoulder they can lean on. Whether it’s a hurricane, a wildfire, a global pandemic, or a record-busting winter storm, Texans pull together and help each other out. How many images of looting have you seen from Texas this week?
Here at the Texas Department of Agriculture, our folks have been doing our part, even as they struggled themselves. My staff has been working relentlessly to help producers locate feed and hay for their livestock, find ways to get their products to market and locate agriculture processors that are open to try to keep the food chain moving. TDA field staff have been working directly with rural and urban food banks to help locate food for distribution, and with our rural hospitals making sure they have resources, equipment, and services open. Our school nutrition staffs have worked to provide guidance to schools across the state serving as emergency warming centers or shelters.
Additionally, we’ve fired up the State of Texas Agriculture Relief Fund or STAR Fund to assist farmers and ranchers with agricultural disaster relief efforts. I encourage everyone to visit the TDA website (www.texasagriculture.gov) if you’d like to make a donation.
And make no mistake, Texas farmers and ranchers are struggling right now, and they need our help.
Dairy farmers have dumped millions of dollars’ worth of milk due to lack of power and natural gas at processing plants. Trucks needed to move produce are stuck. Feed mills have been forced to shut down to conserve energy, so producers are desperate to find feed for their livestock.
Poultry producers are facing a massive loss due to lack of energy needed to heat incubators and facilities. Without access to power, water and feed producers are fearful their livestock will die from exposure and lack of nutrition. That’s not mentioning the damage Texas citrus has encountered with the deep freeze. Citrus producers in the Rio Grande Valley have already seen a 60 percent loss in grapefruit and with temperatures below freezing ice buildup in the fruit is sure to cause continued crop loss. It has been more than 30 years since the valley has seen a destructive freeze like this.
As a rancher myself, I’ve struggled to keep my herd watered and fed in this icy weather.
Consequently, I recently issued a red alert about the state of our food supply chain here in Texas. Because of this unprecedented storm, consumers will see empty shelves once they return to the grocery store. If milk, butter or other agriculture products are available, they will likely be more expensive. Consumers will pay more, but farmers and ranchers will earn less.
When supply chains back up, farmers and ranchers receive record low prices and consumers pay record prices- when they can least afford it.
But right now, as so many Texans struggle to help others in need, the help we need the most is from our own Governor.
Where I come from, we have a saying for Governor (Greg) Abbot’s efforts during this crisis: he’s been “a day late and a dollar short.”
I have called repeatedly on Governor Abbott to step up to the plate and designate agriculture as a critical infrastructure and make it a priority for electrical power and gas. Right now, hospital workers, first responders, fire and police are the priority for power and that’s as it should be. But they all need to eat. And without Texas agriculture, food becomes as scarce as any other commodity.
I am calling on the Governor and all other state officials to join me in providing resources that will assist producers and communities across the state navigate this difficult time. They must immediately address the energy crisis in rural Texas and prepare to help get producers back on their feet after this devastating disaster.
Rural Texas is the heart of this great state, and the food they provide feeds us all.
Texans are tough. We’ll make it through this, just like every other challenge we have faced. But we’ll only do so if we work together, and we take care of what matters most — each other.
An eighth-generation Texas farmer and rancher, Sid Miller is the 12th Commissioner of the Texas Department of Agriculture. A 10-time world champion rodeo cowboy, he has devoted his life to promoting Texas agriculture, rural communities and the western heritage of Texas.