J. Allen Carnes, owner of Uvalde, Texas-based Winter Garden Produce, may be campaigning for the Texas commissioner of agriculture post, but he has no plans to become a career politician.
“I’ve got a career,” he said. “It’s in agriculture.”
The 38-year-old Republican cited his familiarity with retail markets and knack for maintaining good relationships with consumers as strong points that should prove beneficial if he’s elected.
He also would like to improve the relationship between agriculture and urban America.
“I really think we need ag leaders that (play) a strong role in trying to bridge the gap,” he said.
A primary election is set for March 4, and a runoff election is scheduled for May 27.
Carnes decided to seek the open seat when the current commissioner, his friend Tod Staples, decided to step down and run for the state lieutenant governor post.
“We were watching the field very closely in the spring and realized there wasn’t anybody with a true voice of agriculture in the field,” Carnes said.
Carnes has strong credentials in agriculture.
Besides coming from a third-generation agriculture operation, he is past president of the Mission-based Texas Vegetable Association, past board member of the Texas Produce Association, Texas representative for the National Council of Ag Employers and a member of the United Fresh Produce Association Governmental Relations Council.
He serves on the Uvalde City Council and currently is the city’s mayor.
If elected, Carnes said he’ll work to “allow producers to succeed and feed our state and feed our nation.”
“I’m a huge marketing guy,” he said.
While he supports the Go Texan initiative designed to boost sales of Texas-grown produce, he said the program “needs some legs,” so he will focus on that and other ways to promote Texas goods within the state, in other states and for export.
“Texas is a huge export state,” he said. “We’ve got a great trading partner to our south in Mexico.”
He wants to further that relationship and capitalize on it, “but do it in smart ways,” he said.
Carnes said he wants to see agriculture thrive, and he said it’s incumbent on the industry to create an environment that helps consumers “understand why we’re doing the things we do.”
The public doesn’t have much knowledge of issues like the farm bill, he said.
“Most people think it’s a subsidy program for farmers,” he said. “Really, it’s far from that.”
“It needs to be explained better,” Carnes said. “In agriculture, we need to tell our story better.”
Carnes commented on some of the challenges the new agriculture commissioner will face.
Water — or lack of it — will be a big issue, he said, and the commissioner must “advocate for smart policy” that enables farmers to prosper.
On trade with Mexico: “Mexico is our competitor, but moreover, (Mexican growers allow) Texas to be able to provide consumers with goods and services throughout the year.”
On immigration reform: “What is important to agriculture is making sure that their producers and their industry have a sustainable work force in the future and allow producers to keep growing and succeeding.”
On federal funding: Carnes said programs like the specialty crop block grants have been good for Texas but, “You need to take a hard look at what’s appropriate these days and why you’re asking for it,” he said. “I’m definitely one who believes you don’t ask just to ask.”
What does Carnes think of his chances of winning?
“I wouldn’t call myself a frontrunner, but I wouldn’t call it a long shot by any means,” he said. “I’ve got just as good a chance as the other guys.”