The following interview with Todd Staples, Texas commissioner of agriculture, appears in World Agriculture Outlook 2014-2015 Edition.
Todd Staples recently announced he would be retiring as the 11th Texas commissioner of agriculture after two terms in the statewide elected office. As leader of the Texas Department of Agriculture, Staples has been diligent in his efforts to support private-sector job creation and economic development across the Lone Star State; improve consumer protection from the grocery store to the gas pump; lead true eminent domain reform in Texas; and play an enormous role in continuing to improve the healthy lifestyles of young Texans.
He is also focused on the promotion of agricultural products and businesses using the GO TEXAN marketing program, and has expanded trade opportunities for Texas producers. Staples was born in Anderson County, where he was active in high school FFA and was elected state FFA vice president. He attended Texas A&M University, where he graduated with honors with a degree in agricultural economics.
World Agriculture Outlook: How big a part of the state’s economy is agriculture? And how much of that is exports?
Todd Staples: The Texas agriculture industry is a powerhouse of activity that generates a $100 billion annual economic impact, or 9 percent of the total gross state product. During 2013, Texas agricultural and related exports totaled $13.7 billion.
What are Texas’s top export commodities?
Wheat, cotton, beef, poultry meat, and dairy products are the top agricultural commodities exported by Texas. Together, these five products account for 42 percent of the state’s total exports.
How does Texas compare to other states in terms of agricultural production?
The Lone Star State is the nation’s top cattle, cotton, hay, sheep, wool, mohair, and goat producing state. Additionally, Texas is a top 10 producer for other commodities, including grain sorghum, eggs, broilers, rice, wheat, pecans, peanuts, chili peppers, and more. Texas has more farms and ranches covering more land than any other state. Texas also leads the nation in the number of women and minority farm and ranch operators. Of particular note, Texas leads the nation in value-added agriculture products.
How has agriculture evolved in Texas in terms of percentage of the population involved in agriculture?
In 1907, when the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) was established, Texas was home to 418,000 farms and ranches. In 2013, there were 248,500 farms and ranches across the state. Despite that decline, one out of every seven working Texans today is employed in a job dependent on agriculture.
What is the breakdown of acreage within the state dedicated to crops and livestock?
Of the 130.2 million acres of farm and ranch land, 29 million, or 22 percent, is devoted to crop production, and the remainder, 101.2 million acres, or 78 percent, is pasture and woodland.
How does TDA facilitate communications between international buyers and Texas suppliers?
TDA hosts outbound and inbound trade missions where Texans travel to another country and international visitors come to Texas. Missions like this are often organized in conjunction with trade associations. TDA also hosts product fairs for international buyers to sample products and meet local producers. In addition, TDA works with organizations like the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and the Beefmaster Breeders United to share information with international visitors attending their events.
What type of resources does your office offer local producers?
TDA provides a wide array of resources for local producers, including:
GO TEXAN Marketing Program;
Specialty crop grants to help producers diversify operations;
Partnerships with other state agencies to aid in natural disasters like wildfires and hurricanes;
Crop protection programs, such as those for citrus and cotton, to reduce damage from harmful pests and disease;
Pesticide applicator training and certification; and
Scale inspections to ensure producers receive fair measurements of products.
Can you highlight a program or two in place to assist companies with international marketing efforts?
TDA works with the Southern United States Trade Association to provide international marketing information to Texas companies through workshops and consultations. TDA also works with United States Livestock Genetics Export, Inc., to provide similar services for livestock producers. Another great resource is the State Trade and Export Promotion [STEP] program, a Small Business Administration initiative that provides assistance to companies wishing to trade in specific countries.
What are you doing that differs from other states?
We like to say, “It’s not bragging if it’s true.” Here in Texas we are a powerhouse of production, topping the list in many agriculture commodities. We are No. 1 in so many ag industries because of our people. Our farmers and ranchers are dedicated to producing the best products in the world. TDA is proud to serve the state of Texas the best we can by listening to the needs of our communities, farmers, and ranchers.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Thank you for taking the time to highlight Texas agriculture in World Agriculture Outlook. Ultimately, TDA’s goal is to partner with all Texans to continue our state’s role as a national and global leader in agriculture, fortify our economy, empower rural communities, and promote healthy lifestyles.
Credit for top photo: Texas Department of Agriculture photo by George Brainard