I met Texas Agricultural Commissioner Sid Miller when we were on the campaign trail in 2018. I was the Libertarian challenger facing Sen. Ted Cruz and Congressman Beto O'Rourke for a US Senate seat, he was the Republican incumbent running for Ag Commission. I caught up with him this weekend while he was driving, for a quick exclusive take on the state of Ag in Texas. Our weekend strawpoll of Republican party leaders indicated he would avoid a runoff which he did with almost 59% of the vote.
Neal Dikeman: Sid, as you've been on the campaign trail, what do ag voters who are in the business tell you is the most important issue facing the Texas ag sector these days? What keeps them up at night.
Sid Miller: Well depending on who you talk to the #1 issues differs. Certainly the intrusion of the federal government and federal overreach in our sector, trying to bring back Waters of the US, overregulate the farms and ranches, etc. I spend 30% of my time fighting Federal government overreach of Texas Ag. [Note: I asked Sid for the single most important issue, but you don't really slow down Sid Miller when he's on a roll.]
The next thing is a labor shortage, and then a water shortage. We've got plenty of land in Texas, we are not going to run out land, but water and labor we need more of. Then high input costs caused by this [Biden] Administration. Increases in costs of fertilizer, lack parts, and shipping delays have really disrupted our life in ag.
Neal Dikeman: Do you expect Texas will ever lead the nation in hemp and cannabis ag production like we do in other crops?
Sid Miller: Oh we definitely will, especially as we transition away from cbd oil to fiber and seed production. We've got a company now ready to issue 100K acres of fiber production. But we have to build the infrastructure for it. We keep up with a number licenses and grower permits, acres of sq footage of greenhouses, we keep a running total. We're at somewhere round 5K acres and 2 mm sq ft of greenhouse licenses right now. [This has been a major topic of conversation during Miller's tenure at the Ag Commission.] When I asked him if they published some sort of index on that, he volunteered they track it, and his office could get us the info, and people interested can generally request the data in a public information request.
Neal Dikeman: Do you see your office having a role in regulating EV charging? If not where does/will it sit, if anywhere?
Sid Miller: We still are the go to agency for weights and measures. Fuel pumps are now with TDLR, but Ag still does lp gas, scales, etc. Right now ev charging is unregulated. We are preparing to be able to take that on, but will need to go to the legislature next Session to make sure that it is clear that it falls under weights and measures. [Note: Libertarians like me would generally prefer it just stay unregulated, and the author is invested in an EV fast charging technology startup in Austin. But you heard it here first, next legislative session Texas may be working on oversight rules to regulate EV charging infrastructure.]
Neal Dikeman: You come across on the campaign trail as larger than life, I'd imagine some if it is on purpose, and some of it is just who you are, and some it is the hat. What is it about your image that you'd like voters to understand? Sid Miller: You know I've never been accused of being a drugstore cowboy if that's what you mean. I've been wearing a hat since I had pants with pockets. People don't do it as much anymore. I do wear my starched blue jeans and starched shirt and polished boots, my style hasn't changed since before politics and it won't after. We've certainly elevated the profile of the office of Ag Commission in Texas. I'd say more people know what it is today that have probably ever known in the history of the agency.
We finished the call with a quick discussion of agrivoltaics in Texas, a subject I absolutely love, but frankly ran out of time to explore it. Sid promised to talk more about that later. Suffice it to say that we agreed running sheep with solar farms makes more sense than running goats or cows. Because, well, goats climb on the panels because they're goats. And I may have to invite him to the opening of our EV Charging startup in Austin, which my venture firm has backed along with Amazon to rewrite the grid. Tech, Energy, and Ag. In Texas they go together.
Neal Dikeman is a venture capitalist by trade, 6th generation Texan and Aggie and long time writer on the side who cofounded the Texas Free Press to capture unvarnished stories of Texas politics, history, sport and culture. He was the Libertarian Nominee for US Senate for Texas in 2018, losing to Sen. Ted Cruz alongside Congressman Beto O'Rourke.