Eminent domain tops the list of issues Texas agricultural interests watch as the state legislature begins marking up bills.
Animal identification, animal cruelty, property taxes, funding for agricultural research efforts, boll weevil eradication support and water also appear on farm organizations' radar screens.
“We are keenly interested in eminent domain and that is our offensive effort,” says Steve Pringle, legislative director for Texas Farm Bureau.
“We've set our highest priority as attempting to reign in use of eminent domain by all entities across the state. We of course will monitor the Trans Texas Corridor, continuing to look for ways to provide additional protections for property owners. While not likely (to be successful), we continue to oppose construction of the TTC.”
Pringle says Farm Bureau also is “watching the appraisal issue. Property taxes are always on farmers minds.”
He said Farm Bureau will take a defensive stance on potential animal cruelty legislation.
“We don't want to see any changes in the Animal ID law, and that will be a challenge.
“With money available, we are probably safe with our current tax treatments, but that is also a defensive position. We expect some additional water bills, but we will just have to see.”
Pringle says Texas Farm Bureau will monitor appropriations for agencies and other ag interests.
Steve Verett, executive vice president, Plains Cotton Growers, says the state legislature currently has nothing on tap that concerns Southern Plains cotton farmers. “There is not anything specifically right now but it is early,” he says. “Generally we're watching several things:
“Any tweaking or changes to the new margin tax that might affect agriculture. Many people would like to tweak it for their own personal interest, but I see a reluctance to reopen that process because lawmakers know there is no stopping place if you do.”
Continuing adequate support of the Boll Weevil Eradication Program also is important to Texas cotton farmers.
“We will be following boll weevil eradication funding in the Texas Department of Agriculture budget. The Legislative Budget Board just released its budget yesterday and the 10 percent cut that all agencies had been ask to submit was restored, so that is good.
“We expect some water bills and some could affect water district rules.”
Wayne Cleveland, executive director, Texas Sorghum Producers Association, cites eminent domain as a critical issue. “We're afraid the Texas Trans Corridor is here but we want to work with eminent domain to make certain it's as fair as possible.”
Cleveland says funding for the Texas A&M bioenergy initiative, a consortium of disciplines created to streamline and enhance renewable energy research, is a top priority with the legislature.
“We're asking for $8 million for the bio-energy alliance,” he says. “We will help lobby for that.
“We'll also keep fighting to maintain the ethanol incentive through appropriations.”
He's also interested in funding for distillers grain research efforts. “We have to help the livestock industry understand distillers grain,” he says. “We have little research on it and we need to help feedlot operators understand the feed values, consistency and costs.”
Cleveland says distillers grain, a co-product of ethanol production, will be an important aspect of locating ethanol plants in the Southwest. “We feel like it's our product and we have to help move it.”
He says the Texas Forest Service is under funded following wildfires last year. “That affects some of our members.”
Cleveland says a few tax issues also may emerge during the 2007 legislative session.
David Gibson, Executive Director, Texas Corn Producers Board, says property rights, immigration and water issues are on the radar for his members. But he's also working with the grain sorghum association to obtain funding for distillers grain utilization research.'
We're working with cattle feeders to identify nutrient value and how to blend distillers grain with their usual rations,” Gibson says. “Little work has been done and we have concerns about acceptance and use. Distillers grain represents a key opportunity and we want to have answers by the time these plants open.”
He says corn producers also support funding for the Texas A&M bio-energy initiative. “We know some of the things for the here and now of ethanol but we also need to look to the future, go to the next level. A lot of questions need answers. We have to be ready to meet the goals outlined by the president in his State of the Union Address.”