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May 31, 2000     (512) 463-0300

Texas Farm Problems Addressed by Legislative Committee

El Campo - Texas farmers need relief from regulations on both the federal and state level. That's the message given to the Joint Agriculture Policy Committee today, May 31 2000. The committee met at the El Campo City Council Chambers so that farmers from the Coastal Bend could make their concerns heard.

The committee is co-chaired by Senator Tom Haywood of Wichita Falls and Representative David Swinford of Amarillo. Senate members include Ken Armbrister of Victoria, Teel Bivins of Amarillo and Steve Ogden of Bryan. House members include Representative Robert "Robby" Cook of Eagle Lake, Jim McReynolds of Lufkin and Bob Tuner of Coleman.

Opening remarks were made by Co-Chairs Haywood and Swinford. Senator Armbrister and Representative Cook welcomed the committee to their districts. Mayor Kenneth G. Martin and Rebecca Socha of the Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture also welcomed the committee to El Campo.

Invited testimony on crop insurance was led off by local insurance agent Tom Bodwin, who reminded the committee that insurance payments are not a substitute for high crops prices. He also discussed changes in insurance and the effects of insurance requirements on planting times. Ray Prewitt of the Rio Grande Valley spoke about increased funding to research institutions, such as Texas A&M.

Fish farmers were also in attendance. Fritz Jaenike, President of the Texas Aquaculture Association, says that his industry should be regulated by the Texas Department of Agriculture rather than the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission and Parks and Wildlife, saying it should be regulated as an agricultural entity, not an industrial entity. One problem with state agencies is the length of time it now takes for permits to be issued. Local fish farmer Jim Ekstrom said he should be able to take the waste water from his tanks and water crops with it. He says regulation of this kind of discharge is the largest impediment to fish farming in the state. Attorney Fred Werkenthin also said that regulations are too strict, and that state regulations sometimes conflict with federal regulations.

Bill Harrison, Jr. from Eagle Lake's First National Bank, says that very few first time loans are being issued, meaning that new people are not going into farming. He says money is leaving the rural communities and going to big banking houses. This hurts local banks in rural areas because much of their loan business is agriculture-based.

Sam Childs of the El Campo Production Credit Association told the committee that rules and regulations vary not only from state to state, but also county by county. He called for a level playing field for all farmers across Texas.

Public testimony was led off by Donald Patman, President of the Texas Farm Bureau. Patman testified about private property rights and water rights for agriculture. The committee also heard from Carl Foshee, President of the Coastal Plains Agriculture Incubator System, who discussed projects in which they are involved. Other public testimony concerned water rights, the rule of capture and how the state water plan, known as Senate Bill 1 - 76th Regular Legislative Session, will affect agriculture.

The committee recessed subject to the call of the chair. Its next meeting is scheduled to be held in Abilene, at a time to be announced later.

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