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Changing attitudes about farming and ranching in expanding Texas cities

Texas Cattle
Texas leads the nation in beef production.
Texas is a leader in many agricultural enterprises; and citizens are becoming more aware of the importance of food and fiber production in the state.

If you're from Texas or living within its boundaries, you probably know it's a big and rapidly growing state, and it has a lot to offer.

There is a robust oil and gas industry, for one, making the energy sector the largest in the nation, producing and refining the most crude oil and producing the greatest amount of natural gas. The wind energy industry is also the largest in the nation.

Texas also leads the nation in new home construction and in overall growth. International finance and banking is another area where Texas ranks number one among states. You might even be surprised that Texas leads the nation in music education, and along with California, leads the nation in science education.

The state's economy is second in the nation, making up ground to catch California, and it is considered by many to lead the nation as a technology exporter. Most obscure, perhaps, Texas even leads the nation in the number of interesting cats. Go figure.

A few more things to note before we get to the meat of our discussion: Texas is one of the largest in population growth and ranks near the top in domestic and international migration. It is also among the youngest states in terms of its people. The state has the second lowest unemployment numbers and ranks fourth in industrial diversity and second in gross domestic product (GDP).


But for many, many years, Texas has been known as a Mecca of the nation's overall agricultural production. It comes as no surprise Texas produces the most beef cattle. It's also the largest producer of cotton fiber and cotton seed, and the largest producer of wool and mohair. It doesn't end there. The Lone Star State leads the nation in horses, hay, sheep and goats, and is second in grain sorghum.

In fact, Texas is such a large contributor to the nation's agriculture, it might seem surprising that as urban areas of the state become larger, trends have been that fewer Texans are aware of the important role agriculture plays in the state's heritage and economy. From food safety to the economy, agriculture is an important part of Texas, and by the ongoing growth of the industry in the state, it seems that it will continue to play a major role for years if not generations to come.


While 'city-dwellers may have failed to understand the importance of agriculture in the state in recent years, that trend has been changing. For example, more students at the primary grade level are being taught more about the importance of farming and its role in healthy eating. And that trend is leaning toward older, more advanced students in public and private schools as well. More advanced health education is becoming the norm, as is the role of eating healthy.

Much of these efforts we owe to educators who have become more aware through farm-to-table programs and other extension outreach-supported projects. Extension officials say it is the growing interest and awareness of parents and teachers who are warming up to the idea of food security and healthy eating. There also seems to be a growing desire to know and understand the people who grow their food.

October is a prime month for that concept to take hold among students as more and more field trips are planned and more visits take place at working farms and agri-tourism operations in rural areas where students are exposed to the many ways food is grown. Things as simple as walking through a corn maze or a trip to the farm to visit a pumpkin patch can help kids more become more aware of the process and importance of agriculture.

It also helps that parents are more aware of healthy growing and healthy eating and developing those habits in their family meals. Farmer's markets, purchasing fresh fruits and vegetables at roadside stands, or pick-your-own farms have become more popular as well, as have produce and fresh vegetable co-ops. Even urban agriculture is catching on in many cities.


Next time you have a chance to talk with friends, customers or family members who live in urban areas, share this information with them to create a better understanding of and support for agriculture in Texas:

Fourteen percent of all Texans are involved in agriculture-related work. Family farms represent 98.6 percent of all farms in Texas, which is just a little higher than the U.S. average.

The average age of farmers and ranchers is 58 years, which is a concern until one realizes that most owners are parents or grandparents and that the younger members of the family help in the operation.

Texas has more women and minority farm operations than any other state in the U.S.

In cattle, Texas has 13 percent of the U.S. inventory; in fact, Texas has more cattle than 43 states have people. Texas has the 14th largest cattle inventory in the world. Most Texas cattle operations have less than 50 cows, but those account for only about 28 percent of all cows.

Ranches with 100 to 499 head maintain 38 percent of Texas cows. In fact, 73 percent of all cows in Texas are in herds of less than 500 head.

In 2015, the most recent statistics, Texas ranked third behind California and Iowa for agricultural receipts with $23.5 billion, of which about two-thirds comes from livestock products and one-third from crops.

Cattle and calves account for about $8 billion, first; with broilers accounting for $1.4 billion, third, and dairy products total $975 million, fifth. Hogs and sheep and lambs account for $88 million and $58 million, 14th and 19th respectively.

In comparison, nursery products came in second at $1.2 billion. That's a lot of turf grass and shrubs.

What was surprising was the economic impact, not value, of the Texas horse industry - $5.2 billion. Livestock exports are important to the Texas economy too. Exports of beef totaled $855 million and hides totaled $431 million.

The economic impact of the Texas food and fiber sector totals more than $100 billion annually, second only to the oil and gas industry.

But Texas has other livestock including dairy, swine and sheep and goats. Texas is not in the top 10 in dairy cow numbers but ranks sixth in milk production. Most dairy cows are in the Stephenville, Sulphur Springs, and the Panhandle.

Texas has never been known as a swine producing state but it still ranks 14th in the U.S. with about 2.5 million head marketed.

At one time, most swine were produced by small producers, but now 86 percent of the hogs produced in Texas are from herds with more than 2,000 sows. Many of those are in the Panhandle.

Texas has the highest numbers, and greatest value, of sheep and goats. Some 38 percent of goats, both Angora and meat goats, in the U.S. are in Texas and most of these are in the Hill Country. Texas is ranked third for dairy goats in the U.S. It was interesting to note that most of the market goats, kids as well as culls, are moved directly to processing plants in the upper Midwest and Northeast.

In the past, Mexico was the primary destination for culls but the ethnic market in urban areas is now the destination for those goats. 

Texas animal agriculture is diverse and it has a significant impact on the state's economy. But, more importantly, it helps provide abundant and safe food and fiber for all Texans.

A good portion of this information was graciously provided by Joe Paschal, a Texas A&M livestock specialist in Corpus Christi. Thank you Joe, and to our readers, who should pass this information along as often as possible to those who may not know or appreciate and value the importance of agriculture in the great State of Texas. 

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