Q&A: Sid Miller talks selling rice to China, school lunches and barbecue policies during a campaign stop in Tyler

Jul 12, 2018

Texas’ agriculture industry is facing a “depression,” Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller said in a conversation with the Tyler Morning Telegraph on Thursday.

From drought to low commodity prices, Miller said it’s difficult for Texas farmers and ranchers in today’s environment. He talked about why the industry is struggling and what he thinks will fix it, as well as his department’s policy on barbecue and why he is seeking re-election.

Q: Why is Texas agriculture facing tough times?

A: There’s a severe drought in West Texas, it looks like we’ve got a dry land cotton failure. People are selling livestock in Central and West Texas because there’s no water, there’s no grass. Livestock auctions are running until 4 or 5 or even 8 a.m. But Texas farmers are resilient. They’ll be good.

Q: What is the Texas Department of Agriculture doing to solve these issues?

A: We’re praying for rain and we’ll get some when God decides we need it. But for low commodity prices we work very hard on that. We initiated a global outreach initiative with the Texas Department of Agriculture in my tenure. We’ve been to every continent on the globe (except Antarctica) marketing Texas products in my first 12 months in office. We’ve been very successful with that. We’re now selling rice to China; they’ve never bought rice from us before. It’s been 14 years since they’ve bought U.S. beef and we’re getting beef into China. We’re doing our part. We now have picked up Spain as a buyer of our grain sorghum. We’re working with Cuba, we’re ready for that market to open. We’ve been selling them grain sorghum and rice in the past. Any and all markets, we’re there knocking on the door.

Q: What initiatives are you taking in the U.S.?

A: We have initiatives in Texas like the Go Texas program. We have different membership levels; some Texas producers and Texas businesses can become a Go Texas member. We run the Go Texas pavilion at the Texas State Fair. We have about 300 of our Go Texas members in the Pioneer Country Store. We run the Texas Wine Garden with all Texas wines, we run the Texas Beer Garden with all Texas craft beers, so we’re very involved locally, too.

Q: Why have you decided to run for re-election?

A: We’ve done a lot of good things during my first term. We’ve completely reorganized the agency and our inspectors are getting 60 percent more done and driving 750,000 miles less. We’ve still got some things to do, though I’m not through expanding our global outreach, our marketing program. We’re just now opening an office in Argentina for the South American market, that’s been very good to us.

Q: What do you bring to the table?

A: I’ve got agriculture experience, legislative experience, I am a former agriculture educator. I’m an eight-generation Texas rancher, so I’ve got a lot that my opponent can’t offer.

Q: What is your proudest moment in office?

A: I have a lot of proud moments, but one of the things I think is making school lunches great again. We’re responsible for 5 million school meals each day. When I took over the school meal programs at the Texas Department of Agriculture, with those 5 million school meals instead of having healthy kids we had healthy trash cans. We’ve turned that around at the Texas Department of Agriculture.

Q: Let’s talk Texas barbecue. Attorney General Ken Paxton gave a nonbinding opinion that if barbecue restaurants sued over the Texas Department of Agriculture’s policy on inspecting meat-weighing scales, you would probably lose. Is there any plan to change your policy?

A: My job is to protect the consumer. I think it sets a dangerous precedent when one industry doesn’t have to use the scale because everybody else will want an exemption, too. The example is, if the barbecue restaurants don’t have to use a scale, I should probably exempt their meat supplier. And then the packing house probably shouldn’t have to use a scale, and if the packing house doesn’t want to use the scale the feed lot shouldn’t have to use the scale, and if the feed lot doesn’t the auction barn shouldn’t. It just goes on down, so where does it stop?

To me, I think paying a $35 fee annually, two plates of barbecue, to have your scales inspected is not too big of a financial burden. I would be very suspicious of any barbecue joint that didn’t want to put the scales in plain view of the customer.