Saturday, December 03, 2005

"There's still a lot of hard feelings and animosity among the farmers and ranchers over the corridor."

Highways, drought part of Texas Farm Bureau mix

Saturday, December 03, 2005

By Dan Genz Tribune
Waco Tribune-Herald
Copyright 2005

A persistent drought won't end, punishing the profitability of farmers in Central and East Texas, while in the state's plains region a terrific cotton crop is driving success.

The new energy bill President Bush signed this year signals growth in farming for ethanol production, yet energy prices remain so high this winter that some farmers are considering cutting production next year.

And as technology improves, computerized ID programs tracking cattle are generating a buzz in ranching.

So many trends in agriculture and business are playing a role in the livelihoods of the Texas Farm Bureau's approximately 387,000 families that sometimes members are into their third or fourth topic before they mention the Trans Texas Corridor and property rights as concerns.

But don't underestimate farmers' opposition to the proposed 4,000-mile network of toll roads and rail lines, a key component of former agriculture commissioner and current Gov. Rick Perry's first election campaign in 2002.

The corridor remains in development more than two years after winning the Legislature's approval in 2003 – and opposition to it still looms as 900 Texas Farm Bureau delegates gather for their annual three-day convention in Waco, beginning today.

"There is still a lot of hard feelings and animosity among the farmers and ranchers over the corridor," spokesman Gene Hall said. "I can't think of anyone, really, who supports it ... Those would be hard to find in the Farm Bureau."

Construction of its first phase – one that could loosely parallel Interstate 35 from San Antonio to the Metroplex – may begin later this decade.

The Texas Farm Bureau came out strongly against it at last year's Corpus Christi convention. This year, several proposals again target it, including one that dissuades state officials from turning existing roads into toll roads.

Another urges that, if the much-dreaded corridor is built, that it at least furnish plenty of access to farmers seeking their way to market.

Riesel rancher Robert Cervenka, 75, compares the corridor to the Mississippi River running through someone's farm. He insists it could cause havoc to a large, productive agricultural operation.

"It's going to run right through the best land in the state," he said, "right through some of the best land in the country."

Cervenka said the corridor could cause some difficulty in farmers' relations with Perry. The bureau endorsed him in the 2002 gubernatorial election and supported him as agriculture commissioner in the 1990s.

"(Corridor opponents) I know totally oppose him because of it," Cervenka said.

However, Cervenka said Perry scored points this year by helping pass a law designed to protect property rights.

Perry restricted local governments from using eminent domain authority for private economic development projects. The law came in reaction to a U.S. Supreme Court verdict in June allowing the practice.

One Texas Farm Bureau proposal up for consideration would make the new law a state constitutional amendment.

Bureau President Kenneth Dierschke said that, like any friends, the Texas Farm Bureau and Gov. Perry can have problems but still get along.

"He's been a friend of ours ever since he's been a commissioner of agriculture and he remains a friend," Dierschke said. "I don't see it as a big stress. Anytime you're into the situations that we're in, we're going to have some problems."

"We're completely, totally opposed to the concept, but if the Trans Texas Corridor happens, we want to be involved," he added.

At a ceremonial signing of the eminent domain restriction bill in Waco this year, Perry strongly defended the highway project as vital in reducing high traffic rates on Interstate 35, especially in areas where the highway cannot be widened.

He said the Trans Texas Corridor would provide a pivotal overhaul of the way people and freight move across the state.

Perry compared resistance to the Trans Texas Corridor to that involving Texas' Farm-to-Market Road system, proposed about seven decades ago. Today it's widely supported, he said, but at the time it provoked the ire of many farmers.

The Texas Farm Bureau has other political concerns this weekend. Dierschke is running for re-election as president against board member Bob Reed from Bay City. Other convention guests range from U.S. Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn, R-Texas, to Miss Texas Farm Bureau.

Asked if it's a good time to be in the farm business, McLennan County Farm Bureau President Marc Scott of Hallsburg said: "Not right now.

"The drought is hitting us pretty hard," he said. "The crops aren't growing. We have oats in the ground that aren't up. It's really getting to be a concern. Our surface water, our tanks are starting to dry up."

And that's just one problem.


Copyright 2005 The Waco Tribune-Herald -