THE TV – “Welcome to ‘Texas Agriculture Matters’ aka, the ‘Sid Miller Show,’ where, as Sid puts it, ‘you will learn about hooves, hide, hair, horns and everything in between.’ Today Sid focuses on: Road Kill – is it overrated compared to the South Beach Diet?” Wait a minute! Let me see that TV guide again. Wow. There really is such a program on your favorite cable channel, RFD-TV, a channel targeted at rural Americans, set to premiere on Jan. 21. And who, exactly, is Sid Miller? He’s the Texas Agriculture Commissioner, a Republican, who was voted into office by Texans. Of course, some of our fellow Republicans would vote for Edward Teach if he had an R by his name on the ballot. (Teach was better known as Blackbeard the Pirate.)
According to a statement released by Miller’s office (which means it was written by someone else), the program will be “a fun and informative look at the role agriculture plays in daily lives,” and will feature Miller, who will host the show in his professional capacity and will not be paid for his participation, exploring Texas in weekly episodes. The show will be recorded in Fort Worth and will include feature segments, interviews and lifestyle spotlights, and might reach 52 million viewers nationwide. Good for Sid. It’s about time Texas farmers and ranchers get some attention outside of the occasional fake news about cattle rustling, recalls of kale (some were found to have a taste) and salmonella in eggs. City slickers in Texas don’t know it, but the ag biz is a major industry in the Lone Star State — $110 billion annually. It’s just out of sight from your cul-de-sac. Not to bog down in stats, but here’s a few we need to know:
- Texas leads the nation in number of farms and ranches, with 248,416 covering 127 million acres. The entire state of California is about 100-million acres.
- Of 408,506 producers in Texas only 37 percent are women, but that number increased 69 percent compared to 2012.
- For 36 percent of producers in Texas, farming is their primary occupation. This means we have a lot of gentlemen farmers – corporate lawyers and oral surgeons who spend their weekends digging septic lines and de-worming cows. Locals call them “the mink and manure set.”
- The average farm in Texas is 411 acres. That doesn’t seem very big, and the number decreased by 12 acres from 2012. Many former farms are now Wood Wood or West Conroe.
- The average age of Texas farmers and ranchers is 59 years. That’s old and getting older. How ya gonna keep them down on the farm after they’ve seen East 6th Street?
- 1 of every 7 working Texans (14 percent) is in an agriculture-related job, but does that include waiters?
One point our ag buddies don’t like to mention is federal government subsidies. A lot of farmers are receiving checks, and my favorite is Prince Hans Adam, crown prince of Liechtenstein, net worth $4.4 billion. In 1986, Prince Hans was a partner in a Texas farm larger than his own principality — and collected subsidies of $2.2 million, the largest support payment to any farm in Texas that year. This isn’t exactly Mom and Pop and “American Gothic.”
It stands to reason that we have a lot education on this front, and we do. There are 46 Texas colleges that offer certificates, associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in various agricultural pursuit. (You can earn an associate degree in agriculture at that agrarian outpost: Houston Community College.) According to experts in that field, so to speak, the best agriculture programs in Texas are offered by Texas A&M University at College Station. Aggies can grow moss on a rolling stone, but have trouble growing touchdowns on AstroTurf.
We now come to the Unknown Politician, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller. He has good credentials for the job: An eighth-generation Texan and former rodeo champion who has been serving as commissioner since 2015. He received an Associate of Arts degree from Cisco Junior College and in 1978 received a Bachelor of Science in Vocational Agriculture Education from Tarleton State University. From 2001 to 2013, Miller served in the Texas House of Representatives. Six months after being elected to the Legislature, Miller reversed a ban, instituted in 2004, on soft drinks and fried foods in public schools. He was unseated in the Republican runoff election by an osteopathic physician.
In 2014, he was elected Ag Commissioner, and has been in hot water ever since. A month after being sworn into office, Miller, a champion calf roper, competed in the National Dixie Rodeo in Jackson, Miss., and charged the trip to Texas taxpayers. When it all came to light, he repaid the state. The Texas Rangers launched a criminal investigation into the Mississippi trip and another February 2015 jaunt to Oklahoma, where Miller received a controversial injection known as “the Jesus Shot.” Prosecutors didn’t press charges after determining that “criminal intent would be difficult to prove.” But he was slapped with a $500 fine from the Texas Ethics Commission.
Finally, I have a few suggestions for that TV show. The official state horse of Texas is the American Quarter Horse. What happens to the other three-quarters? There are approximately1-million horses in Texas. Will the Arabian horses be deported? A program on the collapse of the Christmas tree industry as people turn to artificial trees, no tree at all or make them from coat hangers? Interview Dallas Cowboys to see if they really are cowboys: can they ride a mechanical bull? Then interview the bull. A spot: How to Milk Cows, Goats and Texas Taxpayers. If a former military person becomes a cadet at Texas A&M, would he be a Corps vet? Or if he was a graduate of the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine, could he (or she) be a vet vet? And what’s a Jesus shot?
Farmer Ashby is at firstname.lastname@example.org