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Amarillo Globe-News: Sen. Cruz talks about helping farmers in Friona

FRIONA – Sen. Ted Cruz visited Friona on Monday as part of a three-day agriculture tour in West Texas.

The Texas Republican stopped at Del Rio Dairy and feed manufacturer Hi-Pro Feeds, and later climbed aboard a combine to harvest milo, a crop that has seen tumbling prices.

“Commodity prices are so low that we’re right at the borderline of not being able to produce more than it’s worth,” said Jason Wright, owner of the 285-acre stretch of milo Cruz navigated with the combine.

Milo prices that have dropped about 40 percent in recent years, Wright said.

He is also battling the emergence of crop-damaging sugarcane aphids.

“That’s an added expense that we really don’t wish to have right now, but if we don’t spray for the aphids, it’ll ruin our milo,” he said, adding that concerns about the Environmental Protection Agency outlawing the pesticide used against the aphids was causing further headache.

Cruz’s trip to Friona comes on the heels of Sunday’s contentious and emotionally charged presidential debate in which many of the issues were overshadowed by personal sparring between GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

Absent from the debate was any mention of agriculture, an issue that is very important to a West Texas economy anchored by farming and ranching.

“Agriculture is a backbone of America, and farmers and ranchers are a critical foundation of the state of Texas,” Cruz said in an interview. “I think there needs to be far more national focus — and focus in the presidential campaign — on agriculture issues.”

Cruz emphasized the agricultural benefits of his flat-tax plan, which includes a border adjusted business tax that would place a 16 percent tax on imported goods and crops while leaving American exports untaxed.

“Those very same principles that I was fighting for the in the presidential campaign are what I’m fighting for every day in the U.S. Senate,” he said.

However, while many farmers such as Wright are looking to benefit from more than $7 billion in safety-net dollars being distributed in light of market downturns during 2015, Cruz voted against the 2014 Farm Bill that enacted the two programs paying subsidy money.

Cruz said at the time, among other things, that it “fails to provide a true safety net for farmers in difficult years.”

With diminished commodity prices still impacting Texas producers, area farmers will likely also be looking next year for reassurances that they will be able to stay in business.

“Crop insurance is a vital function of the federal government, and I strongly support crop insurance,” Cruz said Monday, adding that he primarily voted against the bill because it was tied to an “explosion in food stamps.”

Key to ensuring that farmers stay protected from unexpectedly low commodity prices was fixing the recent “incredible volatility of the dollar,” Cruz said.

“One of the issues that I have focused on repeatedly in my time in the Senate is the need to rein in the Federal Reserve to ensure dollar stability, so that farmers can know what a dollar today and a dollar next year is going to be worth,” Cruz said.

“That means that we’ll have a far clearer picture and be able to predict and plan and budget for where commodity prices are going to be in the future.”

In a phone interview Monday, Kyle Ingham, local government services director at Panhandle Regional Planning Commission, said safeguarding the economic wellbeing of farmers has benefits that reach far beyond small towns such as Friona.

“You have 60 percent of Amarillo sales tax coming from outside the city of Amarillo, coming from the rest of the Texas Panhandle region,” Ingham said.

“With the economy of the region and the policies of the region, everyone is interrelated,” he said. “What’s going on economically in Friona then affects Hereford, affects Dimmitt and ultimately affects Amarillo.”

Cruz’s agricultural tour of West Texas concludes tomorrow in Dalhart.

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