The shrinking and aging population of farmers and ranchers in Texas keeps Jason Skaggs, chief executive officer of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, awake at night.
“It’s no secret to anyone the demographics of Texas and this country are changing. More and more people are getting away from the ranch and farm. They don’t know where their food is coming from or what y’all do,” Skaggs said. “(We’re) having to consistently educate those people on what we do and defend what we do.”
Skaggs spoke during the luncheon at the second day of the South Texas Farm and Ranch Show on Thursday. He said producers are not only having to educate the public about agriculture, but they’re almost in the position where they have to justify how and what they produce to feed the state and the nation. About 1,000 people are moving to Texas a day, which provides an opportunity to increase beef demand in the state, but often the new Texans are not familiar with private property rights, the strong heritage of agriculture and what it takes to maintain that, Skaggs said.
The Humane Society of the United States is trying to shut down the Beef Checkoff Program, which consists of producers by law paying $1 per head of cattle they sell to support beef promotion, he said. The Texas Beef Council, which is funded by the program, helps dispel rumors such as beef causes cancer.
“We’re taking this very seriously. These activists that are taking our industry on, tt’s an attack on our way of life,” Skaggs said.
With more people moving to Texas, more expansion will require more eminent domain, he said. The current legal process of eminent domain is not fair or transparent for landowners in Texas, who get low-ball offers for their land and bad easement terms. Agriculture leaders are leading an effort to address this issue during the next state legislature next year.
“It all comes back to the fact you’re dealing with a legislature in Austin and Washington becoming more urban,” Skaggs said. “It’s a constant battle to educate those people about … why rural Texas still matters.”
The agriculture industry is successful, but producers need to stay vigilant, he said. They’re faced with the changing landscape of the industry driven by people, mostly elected officials, who aren’t educated about agriculture.
“Legislators need to hear from you, their constituents,” Skaggs said. “The energy lobbyists, the animal rights groups, they’re there and they’re making their voice heard. We have to equal that.”
Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association is forming coalitions with other agriculture organizations to fight for the industry, he said.
Henry Schaar, whose family started ranching in Victoria County in 1886, said he and other producers are becoming a minority in the state’s population. He said changes need to be made through the state legislature to maintain agriculture and make sure the industry isn’t pushed to the back burner.
“There’s 1,000 people coming in a day. I would bet that 900 of them are not interested in agriculture,” he said.