Published May 10, 2022
FARFA sent questions to the 4 candidates in the May 24th primary runoffs for Texas Land Commissioner. Jay Kleberg was the only one who responded, with the following:
What role does agriculture play in the management of the public land portfolio? And, specifically, what role do you see for sustainable and regenerative agricultural uses?
Agriculture plays a critical role in the management of the public land portfolio. The General Land Office has responsibility for the oversight and management of approximately 700,000 acres of surface land that has been constitutionally dedicated to the Permanent School Fund (PSF) in over one hundred Texas counties across the state. Surface leases on these lands are typically issued for agriculturally related uses such as farming, grazing, hunting, timber production and recreation.
Sustainable and regenerative agriculture must be the centerpiece for the future of Texas’ land use if we are going to maintain and expand a vibrant agricultural industry. As Land Commissioner, I would enact a multi-part plan to increase sustainable and regenerative use of public lands:
The General Land Office once housed the Farm and Ranch Lands Conservation Program, which is now under the purview of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. The GLO, with its extensive responsibilities along the coast and broad base of landholdings across the state, should re-enter the Farm and Ranch Lands Conservation Program as a funding and decision-making partner in the acquisition of conservation easements on working lands.
The GLO should use its Coastal Resiliency Master Plan and Coastal Management Plan to direct funding from a variety of funding sources – HUD-CDBG and MIT, NRDA, RESTORE, CEPRA and GOMESA to support investments in green infrastructure and living shorelines, not only along the Texas coast, but to other parts of the state so that we are building a more resilient and sustainable land base that ultimately benefits all Texans with secure food and fiber and clean and abundant air, water and open space.
The General Land Office, with 13 million acres of public lands, can also have a direct impact on reliable and clean energy in our agricultural communities, creating the jobs of the future climate economy and modeling best land management and oil and gas extraction practices, such as preventing flaring and venting and the recycling of produced water for both production and beneficial use.
How would you support Veterans who want to farm or ranch?
Texas owes our veterans an incredible debt and supporting them as they enter the civilian world is the least we can do to fulfill that debt, and that especially includes veterans entering the agricultural industry. Expansion of veteran-owned and operated farms and ranches can only serve to benefit Texas, our agriculture industry, and our veterans. If elected, there are a number of ways I would support veterans who want to farm or ranch.
First, the Land Commissioner chairs the state’s Veterans Land Board, which provides uncompetitive property loans for qualifying military veterans and oversees state veterans’ homes and veterans’ cemeteries. I will work with the Legislature and with partners and stakeholders to lower interest rates on the loans, expand access to those property loans for veterans, and fully staff the Veterans Land Board to improve efficiency and awareness.
Second, as Land Commissioner, I will use my influence to advocate for legislation that provides even greater opportunity for veterans looking to purchase property for agricultural use. In 2021, Representative Alex Dominguez and Senator Roland Gutierrez filed HB 1795/SB 956 to create a Veterans Land Bank, which would have allowed the Texas State Affordable Housing Corporation to acquire vacant, abandoned, and tax delinquent properties and use it to develop housing available for rent or purchase to eligible veterans. I would support a revised version of this legislation that was expanded to include the acquisition and development of land for veteran farming or ranching.
How would you improve disaster relief services for farmers, ranchers, and rural communities?
Farmers, ranchers, and rural communities are impacted equally if not more so than their urban and suburban neighbors. There are improvements I would make to disaster relief services that will improve outcomes for farmers, ranchers, and rural communities:
I would create a quick strike force team to ensure that the GLO is coordinating with state, regional, and local officials to quickly repair damage after a natural disaster. I would also develop a statewide network of disaster preparedness offices to ensure equitable and timely disbursement of emergency and long-term disaster relief funds. Currently, the GLO has a record of taking close to a decade to expend disaster relief funds–which is a disservice and threat to impacted communities. I would act on the recommendations of the 86th Legislature’s H.B 5 “Local Restrictions that Impede Disaster Recovery,” which includes better coordination with state agencies, law enforcement, local jurisdictions, and community partners about the resources available and processes required to quickly recover from natural disasters. The GLO must prioritize investments in the tools required for communities to communicate in emergencies, to quickly identify and deploy resources available through FEMA and HUD funding, and provide not just the technology and information but ensure that the human resources are on-the ground to handle constituent needs in person.
Any additional comments that you would like to share with our members:
Whether it be my upbringing in the agricultural community surrounding Kingsville, my work conserving and managing wild lands in my role as Associate Director and Director of Conservation Initiatives with Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation, or the time I spent covering the state building Explore Ranches to maintain rural working lands, I have spent my working life in land conservation. For too long, this office has been viewed as a stepping stone, and we have elected Land Commissioners without the necessary experience to do this job. This office is our state’s top environmental post, and our state is already feeling the effects of climate change. We cannot afford to elect another Land Commissioner lacking the experience necessary to do this job and do it well. I am confident that my experience and expertise have prepared me well to lead the GLO and expand Texas’ agricultural leadership.