Even during a pandemic, it’s best not to mess with Texas

Staff Writer
Brownwood Bulletin
Chris Cobler

Texas Department of Transportation officials noticed more personal protective equipment -- face masks, wipes and gloves -- on the side of roads and highways, so they called in the big guns for a new round of “Don’t mess with Texas” commercials. The celebrities featured include George Strait, Matthew McConaughey and Eva Longoria.

“Find a trash can, or keep a litter bag in your car, and wait to toss it until you get home,” Longoria said via her Instagram page. “#DontMessWithTexas actually means don’t litter!”

“Capital Highlights” reader Anna Blythe, who reads the column in the Weimar Mercury, wrote recently that she thinks the “Don’t mess with Texas” campaign needs a reboot. She said she’s seen much more litter in recent years along Interstate 10 from Baytown to Flatonia.

“I hate to see all the trash on our roadways in our great state of Texas,” Blythe said.

About 362 million pieces of litter accumulate on Texas roads every year with items discarded from vehicles accounting for half the mess, TxDOT officials report. Those caught littering can face a fine of $500. If the tossed litter weighs more than five pounds, the fine can increase up to $2,000.

For alert readers also wanting to appear in this column, which celebrity appeared in the first “Don’t mess with Texas” commercial in 1986? Email the answer, along with your name and the newspaper in which you read the column, to ccobler@texaspress.com.

Cotton-packaging problems

Plastic is a serious problem for cotton farmers, too.

During the past three years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has found an increase of plastic in samples that likely originated from the round module wraps used to package cotton, the Texas Farm Bureau reports.

Every bale of cotton is graded by the USDA in classing offices across the country. In 2018, the USDA classing office in Corpus Christi received more plastic-contaminated bales than any other classing office in the country. When small pieces of plastic tear from the wear and embed themselves in the cotton lint, that lowers the crop’s quality and price. Roadside litter can contribute to the problem. Plains Cotton Growers CEO Steve Verett says the industry is working to fix the problem: “We have to recognize we can’t risk the reputation of being one of the premium fibers in the world. That’s what we’ve lived off of for many years in the U.S., and we can’t let this plastic wrap issue become our Achilles heel.”

Ag land values remain strong

Despite the recession, the value of Texas agricultural land has increased, according to a new U.S. Department of Agriculture report.

The average value of the state’s agricultural land, including buildings, is up 2.4 percent this year at $2,170 an acre  in the USDA’s 2020 Land Values Report.

Across the country, average ag land values are either lower or unchanged from 2019’s record highs, according to Morning Ag Clips.

The amount of farmable land has decreased because of urban sprawl. Because of this, farmland is appreciating in value, which is good for investors but can be a mixed bag for farmers. In Texas, 236,000 farmers and ranchers paid $698 million in property taxes, or about $3,000 each, according to an article by Pew Charitable Trusts. Ag land can qualify for certain tax exemptions.

Some news is hard to digest

Those with a hankering for Luby’s square fish or a LuAnn plate may have to seek comfort food elsewhere for the first time in almost a century.

Bob Luby opened his first restaurant in San Antonio in 1947. Seventy-three years later, Luby’s home-style cooking may be no more.

Luby’s Inc., now a Houston-based restaurant company, is liquidating its assets, its board of directors announced. The decision also could mean the end for the company’s other restaurant, Fuddruckers.

Stockholders have yet to approve the liquidation plan, and it’s possible a buyer could keep the restaurants open. Cafeteria-style restaurants have been buffeted by the pandemic, as some of the 80 Luby’s and Fuddruckers locations were closed soon after the COVID-19 outbreak.

Add some color to your world

The first day of fall is Sept. 22 on the calendar, but that doesn’t mean much across most of Texas.

As the summer heat drags on, perhaps planning a visit to see the fall colors will help. Texas Parks and Wildlife offers a guide for fall foliage. Visit twpd.texas.gov for tips on seeing the bigtooth maples of Lost Maples State Natural Area, the yellow cottonwoods at Caprock Canyons and the East Texas hardwoods of Lake Bob Sandlin, Cooper Lake, Daingerfield and Martin Creek Lake.

Chris Cobler is a board member and past president of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas. He welcomes email at ccobler@texaspress.com.