Texas Agriculture Commissioner visits Copperas Cove
By LYNETTE SOWELL
Sid Miller, the Texas Agriculture Commissioner, made a stop in the Copperas Cove area last Wednesday evening as he travels the state in a bid for a second term in office.
Longtime area rancher and businessman Donlie McMullin hosted an informal gathering, where Miller talked about what the position of the agriculture commissioner means and what his office has been doing the past several years.
“When I took office, the agency was in pretty bad shape,” Miller admitted. “There was an $18 million deficit, we were in the red. We turned that around within eight months.”
The Texas Department of Agriculture has a $6 billion per year budget, larger than the budgets of 31 state governors, Miller said. The office oversees organic farm certification, weights and measures of the state’s gas pumps and pawn shops, as well as child nutrition programs of Texas schools, among other things.
Part of Miller’s aim has been to make operations more efficient.
“We do all the organic certification for farms in the state, and the program had a 2-1/2 year backlog. That’s totally unacceptable,” Miller said. “We got that fixed in 90 days and got that turned around. It’s been on time ever since.”
He also said the TDA serves as the state’s consumer protection agency where weights and measures are concerned, and that people have likely seen his name on the gas pumps, of which there are 400,000 across the state. When he took office, the rate of checking the gas pumps took eight years, and he said 84 percent of those pumps were out of compliance when he entered office. Those same gas pumps are now 96 percent in compliance. Miller’s goal is for them to be inspected every 12 months.
The Texas Department of Agriculture is also developing a program to check for credit card skimmers at the gas pumps, Miller said.
“We’re on that. We’re cracking down them, working with sheriffs’ departments, working with secret service internationally on that. It’s an organized crime and very sophisticated.”
The gas pump inspection program was another that was recognized, with inspectors traveling 1.5 million miles less and getting 40-60 percent more inspections done. This was done by eliminating 16 inspectors and outsourcing to the private sector and requiring that the gas station owners get the pumps recalibrated every 12 months, which is a bonus for them because as pumps get older, they begin to wear out and start “giving gas away,” Miller said.
“The private sector does it faster, better, and more efficient than government does,” Miller said, but noted that his office certifies the pump technicians. “We’re checking the checkers.”
He said that $5 billion of the $6 billion budget is the state’s nutrition programs.
“We’re responsible for five million school meals each day. There are 12 nutritional programs we run.”
Miller said when he took office, he rolled back all the mandates that had been put in place by the Obama administration. “My first act, two weeks into office, I held a press conference and declared amnesty for cupcakes,” he quipped. “We’re not telling schools what they can do in their lunchroom anymore. We leave that to local school boards, cafeteria, and more importantly the parents should be involved in that, not bureaucrats in Austin or Washington.”
He discussed programs the office put in place that are available to school districts, such as Farm Fresh Fridays, Meet the Farmer Day, and programs that provide gardening kits for children and schools, to get younger kids to grow their own vegetables and teach healthy eating habits.
“We have also set up a clearing house so districts can find local produce, and link producers with school cafeterias,” Miller said. “I’d hear from schools that ‘we’d love to buy local produce, but we don’t know any local farmers and we don’t have the time to go to the farmers’ market. last year, they bought $30 million in Texas product for the first time. That’s a win for our farmers, a win for our kids.”
Miller has two opponents in the Republican primary, podcaster and former lobbyist Trey Blocker and former dairy farmer Jim Hogan. A lone Democratic candidate, retired Air Force Colonel and farmer Kim Olson, will face the winner of the March 6 primary in November.