Interview with Texas Farm Bureau President
by Christine DeLoma / The Lone Star Report
Kenneth Dierschke, a cotton farmer from Wall, is
president of the state’s largest farm organization, the Texas
Farm Bureau (TFB). I chatted with Dierschke the other day about
issues most important to farmers and ranchers. Private property
rights top the list. (No wonder Gov. Rick Perry’s controversial
veto of eminent domain reform shocked many TFB members)
Dierschke explores the possible reasonings behind Perry’s veto
of what he calls the “most important property rights legislation
in at least 10 years.”
One of the big issues outlined in the Texas Farm Bureau’s annual
convention was the need to revisit
eminent domain reform, which Gov. Rick Perry vetoed.
Why is reforming eminent domain important to your members?
process is obviously in need of reform. When I go out and speak
to people and explain to them how many entities [in] the state
of Texas actually have the power of eminent domain, they are
usually very surprised. Actually there are thousands of them.
fact is, eminent domain has become far too easy, thanks to two
very unfortunate Supreme Court decisions. The deck is now
stacked against the property owner. For example, the condemning
entity does not have to make a good faith offer before they
initiate this process. That means they can lowball the property
owner and force that family to decide to take the matter to
court. They can get the property literally for a very low and
another case, the court ruled that property owners need not be
compensated for diminished access. This is state-sanctioned
robbery, and no one who claims to support property rights can
possibly be for that.
also like to make clear that this is not a rural vs. urban
issue. For every person that owns a home, a business, a car, or
other property is subject to being steamrolled by an eminent
domain process that has lost all pretense of fairness.
do not dispute the fundamental concept of eminent domain, and we
also understand that with the exploding population of Texas in
coming years, the taking of private property for public use will
become more frequent. What we’re saying is just: Treat us fairly
when that happens.
Were you surprised at Gov. Perry’s veto of HB 2006 and his
reasons behind the veto?
Yes, I was very surprised at the veto. It was inconceivable to
us that the Governor that has stood in front of Farm Bureau
members at dozens of meetings, who was professing his support
for property rights, turned his back on farmers and ranchers and
reasons for the veto, what I’ve heard, really don’t ring true.
We’ve heard some ridiculous numbers [of what it] would cost the
state. But I really haven’t seen an official estimate when you
come down to it...
can’t say to people, “We want our property, but we don’t want to
pay for what it is actually worth.” We can’t have that in the
state of Texas.
also heard from the Governor’s office that all the condemnation
lawyers would benefit from the diminished access provision of
House Bill 2006. That’s just nonsense. Actually, by more clearly
defining the circumstances by which diminished access would
apply, the need for lawyers would be much less.
Then there was the ludicrous claim that House Bill 2006 did not
apply to rural Texas. Tell that to the farmers and ranchers
whose land is in the path of the proposed Trans-Texas Corridor.
fact, that is probably what the veto is about. For better or
worse, the Governor has taken his legacy on the Trans-Texas
Corridor. I think it is more likely that his legacy has already
been defined by his property rights record, and it will not be
Folks need to
understand, though, that this is not just about the Trans-Texas
Corridor. Anywhere, anyone in the state of Texas can have their
property taken and be unfairly compensated.
DeLoma: The Texas Farm Bureau supports compensation for
diminished access to an owner’s property, yet Perry cited it as
one of the reasons for his veto.
Does TFB plan on bringing the issue back to the Legislature and
risk a Perry veto? If so, why?
Dierschke: Our goal is for an identical bill to reach the
Governor’s desk. Certainly we expect a veto. However, we expect
to be able to override his veto. Our members’ challenge will be
to obtain the bill’s passage in a timely manner to have the
opportunity to override.
House Bill 2006 passed both houses of the Legislature with a
veto-proof margin. Eminent domain [reform] is an idea whose time
has come. This is a defining issue. Gov. Perry vetoed the most
important property rights legislation in at least 10 years. We
will not accept a gutted, meaningless bill.
DeLoma: What are some of your other top public policy
priorities for the next legislative session?
for Sunset review is the Texas Transportation Commission, and
I’m confident that reorganization will be of interest to our
Maintenance of our members’
access to available oil supplies will be significant, and as
always we will be vigilant in our protection of various tax
treatments that agriculture currently enjoys [such as]
agriculture use valuation and the sales tax exemption on our
What kind of federal legislation is the Texas Farm Bureau
Dierschke: Probably the main thing that we have on our
agenda is the reauthorization of the 2002 Farm Bill and
currently the 2008 Farm Bill — we are very supportive of that.
That legislation not only impacts farmers who participate in
those programs but also anyone who uses the land and water
conservation programs of the USDA.
We’re also committed to the trade distortion improvements. The
average tariff on products entering the U.S. is 13 percent,
whereas the average tariff on our products entering other
countries is 63 percent. Approximately 25 percent of our annual
production is exported.
Another thing we are looking at is immigration. Our farmers and
ranchers need a dependable supply of workers, and we will
continue to work on that situation.
important, these days, is agriculture in the state’s economy,
and what do you think the state can do to support Texas farmers?
I think the contributions that agriculture makes to the Texas
economy are very significant. One in five jobs in Texas is
dependent on agriculture, and that includes jobs on our farms
and ranches, jobs in processing , transporting, marketing,
retailing , and all those things that involve getting food from
the farm to the table.
Then also there are some extremely important farm service
industries and resources that go into supporting our food and
fiber producers. So the annual value that commodities produce in
Texas is more than $13 billion and the value to the economy of
the state is more than $55 billion a year... And there are
hundreds of rural communities across Texas that exist to support
And one of the main
things the state does to support farmers is the Texas Department
of Agriculture. They help development of our product in state
and also out of state and nationally, so we thank them for that.
Agriculture is committed to a more energy-independent America.
There are alternative energy sources available in Texas, mainly
cellulosic and biomass energy products. The state must play a
role in developing these energy alternatives. And Texas, as we
all know, has been an oil and gas state for many years.
can remain a leading energy state with the appropriate
leadership. The farmers and ranchers of Texas stand ready to do