Texas farm and ranch families face a time of change and great challenges, the president of Texas Farm Bureau said during his address at the organization’s 78th annual meeting.

“Ours is a time of change, but many of the answers we seek are rooted in the rural values of the past. That story is about hard work, faith and determination,” TFB President Kenneth Dierschke said. “If there’s one thing farmers and ranchers know how to do, it’s survive.”

Dierschke addressed the TFB’s assembly of delegates in the “City by the Sea” and recognized a year of remarkable achievement, noting the victories in Austin, the support given to local volunteer fire departments during a year of wildfires and a new partnership with the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance. 

Although the organization reached many of its goals this year, Dierschke recognized the devastating drought conditions plaguing Texas farmers and ranchers. The latest figure from the Texas AgriLife Extension Service estimates more than 5 billion agricultural dollars lost to drought. He also recognized volunteer firefighters for their efforts in 2011 defending lives and property.

More than 150 county Farm Bureaus and Texas Farm Bureau donated more than $1.5 million to help replenish rural Texas volunteer fire department resources this year.

“More than three million acres have burned,” Dierschke said. “If not for the efforts of the volunteer fire departments of Texas, it would have been much worse. These courageous firefighters put their lives on the line to protect property and life all across the state.”

The 2011 Texas legislative session yielded some landmark decisions on eminent domain, water policy, sales tax, grain indemnity and repeal of the Trans-Texas Corridor. Yet, the budget shortfall leaves many challenges for agriculture, Dierschke said.

“The session was not without some heartburn,” he added. “The state’s budget shortfall was some $20 billion and we knew we’d have to let trusted friends in the state government do what they had to do to manage within budget constraints.”

The 2012 Farm Bill is still in debate in Washington, D.C. as lawmakers decide what course of action to take. Dierschke called the environment “toxic.”

“It’s safe to say there will be fewer dollars for the farm bill because of whatever deficit reduction that moves forward,” he said. “To us, the farm bill is a national security issue and the rest of the country should view it that way, too.”

Dierschke pointed to activists and the anti-agriculture groups as a shadow of the past. He encouraged farmers and ranchers to start conversations about agriculture.

“America is hungry for more than the food we grow. Americans crave knowledge about agriculture and farm life,” he said. “The best days of America and of Texas Farm Bureau still lie ahead of us as we continue to build a strong organization to support and defend Texas agriculture.”