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2020 Year In Review for Texas Department of Agriculture (12/31/2020)

AUSTIN - The Texas Department of Agriculture, like so many Texans during this difficult time, experienced success and challenges throughout 2020. From the successful launch of the Industrial Hemp program in March to the ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic, TDA continued its mission to protect Texas agriculture, provide food assistance to schools and communities, and promote Texas-made products and businesses – all while staff worked remotely.

Commissioner Sid Miller provided state and national leadership on many occasions, from advocating support for Texas rural hospitals on CBS’ 60 Minutes to warning Texans about dangerous unsolicited seed packets from China that threatened Texas agriculture. He assured the public of the strength and security of the food supply chain when negative media attention stirred panic. Throughout this year, TDA and Commissioner Miller have repeatedly sought state and federal assistance for rural hospitals, community food banks and local businesses. The quality work of TDA personnel and Commissioner Miller were supported by the Sunset Commission recommendation that the agency be continued, as well as a 94% approval rating in a customer service report issued over the summer.

“This year has tested all of us,” said Commissioner Miller. “But as with every other challenge, Texans were up to the fight and showed the kind of grit and determination we’re known for.”

“I am very proud of all the Texas Department of Agriculture has accomplished on behalf of the people of Texas during this time,” Miller added. “We’ve got a great team and, like everyone else, we’re looking forward to better times ahead. Happy New Year, Texas.”

Here are a few agency highlights from a year that no one will ever forget.

JANUARY

• TDA is the victim of web defacement in a nationwide cyber attack. (Read)
• Commissioner Miller speaks to American Farm Bureau Federation. Trump also addresses group.
• USMCA signed. Great deal for ag producers in Texas and nationwide.
• Commissioner Miller hosts public hearing at Texas Farm Bureau auditorium in Waco regarding industrial hemp program rules. Releases introductory hemp video for the public. (Hear)
• Season 1 of Commissioner Miller’s new TV show, Texas Agriculture Matters, debuts nationally on RFD-TV, reaching millions of homes across the country. (Visit)

MARCH
• TDA releases first GO TEXAN Independence Day gift guide celebrating all things Texas (View)
• Commissioner Miller launches Texas Industrial Hemp Program; begins accepting license applications; releases required orientation video. To date, the program has issued over 1100 hemp producer licenses, with 5,500 acres in fields permitted as well as 12 million square feet in greenhouses. (Read)
• COVID-19 pandemic begins, TDA moves to remote work and launches coronavirus response efforts.
• Commissioner Miller requests Governor Abbott provide funding to help rural hospitals. (Read)
• Commissioner Miller publishes letter declare ag workers and other ag industries as essential, granting them ability to keep businesses open. (Read)
• TDA announces flexibility to allow closed schools to continue to provide school meals, approves opening of almost 10,000 feeding sites to respond to pandemic, requests over 3 dozen waivers from federal government to keep feeding programs going.
• TDA makes policy adjustments to allow Mexican toilet paper and bulk eggs to be sold to Texas consumers to counter shortages.
• TDA field staff are mobilized to deliver hand sanitizer and personal protection equipment to rural hospitals and clinics across the state.

APRIL
• Commissioner Miller announces first hemp producers license to a producer in Killeen, Texas.
• TDA and Commissioner Miller announce emergency federal funding for rural hospitals is on the way. (Read)
• TDA launches the Direct from Texas online effort to connect local ag producers to consumers interested in buying directly from Texas farms and ranches. (Visit)

MAY
• Commissioner takes his appeal for rural hospitals nationwide with appearance on CBS News’ 60 Minutes. (Visit)
• TDA launches federal Farmers to Families Food Box program to get fresh produce directly to those who need it. 
• Commissioner Miller sends letter to U.S. Attorney General Barr asking for investigation of price fixing in beef industry. (Read)
• TDA announces it has secured additional $634 million for 393 Texas rural hospitals and clinics. (Read)
• In expectation of a large state budget shortfall, Commissioner Miller announces 10% agency budget cut - twice the amount requested by Governor Abbott and Legislative Budget Board.

JUNE
• TDA issues statement supporting cotton farmers in light of U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit’s ruling vacating three registrations of the herbicide dicamba. “For the farmers in Texas, I want to be clear: I’ve got your back,” Miller said.
• TDA releases a statutorily required customer service report, showing Texans are pleased with the agency, with an overall 94% favorable rating. Ninety-six percent of respondents said agency staff were courteous and 99% believe the agency mission is important. (View)
• TDA completes upgrade of livestock export facility at Houston-Bush Intercontinental Airport.

JULY
• Commissioner Miller sends letter to Governor Abbott requesting wineries be exempted from bar closures to allow them to remain open for wine tasting. (Read)
• Commissioner Miller sends another letter to Governor Abbott also requested brewhouses and taprooms to be exempt from bar shutdowns.
• TDA and Commissioner Miller help facilitate a donation of 140,000 eggs by Cal-Maine Foods to the Central Texas Food Bank.
• TDA responds to a national crisis when unsolicited seed packets are sent to multiple states from China, some concealed to appear as gifts. The seeds threatened native agriculture during a difficult time. (Read)

AUGUST
• Season 2 of Texas Agriculture Matters premieres on RFD-TV.
• TDA’s Emergency Food Assistance program has provided over 600,000 meals under the Disaster Household Distribution effort.

SEPTEMBER
• Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller announced Grammy award winning country music artist Miranda Lambert and all pro Houston Texan linebacker Whitney Mercilus have teamed up with the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) to promote the agency’s farm fresh initiative on radio and social media. 
• TDA completes new livestock export facility in Del Rio.
• TDA launches Virtual GO TEXAN Pavilion in response to closure of State Fair of Texas and the GO TEXAN Pavilion. The new website allows shoppers to buy the same Texas-made products they’ve come to expect at the Pavilion. (Visit)

OCTOBER
• Commissioner Miller releases editorial highlighting the damage to agriculture education caused by cancellation of rodeo events like Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo. (Read)
• TDA hosts large scale pesticide waste collection and disposal event in Lubbock. This free, public event allowed agriculture producers to safely dispose of unwanted pesticides and pesticide containers. (Read) 

DECEMBER
• Sunset Commission issues report to Legislature with positive comments and high marks for TDA; recommends continuance of the agency in next legislative session. (Visit)
• Commissioner Miller announces he has tested positive for COVID-19.
• Commissioner Miller requests Governor Abbott dedicate unspent federal CARES funding to rural hospitals and state food banks to replace earlier budget cuts. The funding was set to expire if unspent by end of the calendar year on December 31, 2020.

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