Worried about national security? Save Texas agriculture.

Photo by Ivan Pierre Aguirre

Agriculture is more than farmers and ranchers who work the soil or raise livestock. It’s about national security.

Consider the entire system of production, processing, marketing and distribution of the food we eat, the beverages we drink, the clothes we wear and the gas that fuels our vehicles. The ability to sustain our complex systems that allow us to feed, clothe and power our country is a critical component of our national security. Yes, we import food and products from around the world. But we are not fully beholden to any other nation for food or fiber. However, all that could change. If we become overly reliant on imports for what we eat, drink and wear, then our nation will lose power and become vulnerable in an unpredictable global economy. Strong leadership at the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) is also critical to the security of the U.S. economy.

Texas farmers and ranchers power the agriculture system. Right now, the estimated economic impact of the food and fiber sector in Texas exceeds $106 billion annually. However, trade wars, urban sprawl, water scarcity, lack of infrastructure and other challenges all pose threats to Texas ag. TDA supports and markets Texas products, fills the gaps when our citizens must rely on community-based hunger relief efforts and offers consumer protections related to weights and measures, pesticide applications and food safety. Rural communities rely on economic development and healthcare to thrive. All these responsibilities require a budget of about $500 million annually, so you could fairly say that it’s a role that calls for experience and diplomacy. If Texas fails to ensure real respectability and professionalism at the office of Texas Agriculture Commissioner, we put our whole system, and thus our national security, at risk.

So, what do we do now? First and foremost, voters must decide what kind of leader they want at TDA. Choosing a forward-looking leader will mean pursuing advanced technological solutions to ongoing challenges. At the top of the list is expanding broadband internet to rural areas to serve businesses, schools, emergency services and healthcare. Protecting farmland from reckless development and conserving water at all stages of use are also among the issues that can be addressed with technology.

Texas farmers and ranchers have much to lose. Choosing the right leader will make the difference between destructive trade disputes or productive diplomacy, as we rebuild trade relations. A forward-thinking leader will identify new markets and new opportunities and will work to make certain that Texans are positioned to reap the benefits.

Advocating on the national stage for Texas producers, bringing risk-management and economic development resources home to Texas and encouraging Texas consumers to purchase locally produced food and fiber products are also part of the future of agriculture in our state. With all this at stake, the TDA must interact positively with other organizations and entities; it must be prepared to properly manage budgets and human resources; and TDA must commit to meeting people where they are and representing the concerns of all Texans — producers and consumers, alike.

A strong leader can drive the economic, environmental and cultural sectors of agriculture, thus securing its sustainability for generations to come. Ensuring a future for Texas agriculture will result in the continued strength of our economy and security of our nation's food systems. Think Texas Agriculture when you think about national security!

Kim Olson

Democratic candidate, Texas Agriculture Commission