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TFB names Agriculture in the Classroom Outstanding Teacher

By Julie Tomascik
Associate Editor

Curious students fill the classroom where intriguing lessons plans await them. And a teacher, passionate and patient, takes them on a journey of agriculture.

One that includes field trips, experiments and hands-on activities. Opening a new world—of questions and understanding. 

Because Michele Knauf, a fourth grade teacher at Sacred Heart Catholic School, has a different kind of classroom. With an agricultural background, Knauf knows the importance of connecting students with an industry they’re far removed from. Even in the small community of Muenster.

Her efforts to incorporate agriculture in the classroom earned her the Agriculture in the Classroom Outstanding Teacher award from Texas Farm Bureau (TFB).

Nominated by Cooke County Farm Bureau, Knauf will accept the award at TFB’s 82nd annual meeting in Arlington in December.

“My whole life has been centered around agriculture—growing up on a farm as a child and marrying a farmer and rancher and moving up here to this area,” Knauf said in an interview with the TFB Radio Network. 

She teaches all core subjects—math, science, social studies and reading. And agriculture comes to life in each. 

From creatures in the classroom to outside activities, Knauf exposes her students to agricultural concepts—soil, life cycles, plant growth and more. And her students inspire it all.

“I am always looking for new ideas, and many times it is the children who find them for me. Then, we experiment some more,” Knauf stated in her application.

For many years, the class had a wildflower garden. The students, along with Knauf, worked the ground, applied mulch and planted the seeds. They would water the seeds and anxiously wait until spring to see the fruits of their labor.

To better understand soil, the students bring in samples from different places. They study the permeability and discuss what grows in each soil type.

And agriculture even finds its way into their reading assignments.

“In reading, one of the main chapter books that we go through—and we’re doing it right now—is Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder,” she said. “It talks about farming in upstate New York during the 1860s.”

The book offers a chance to compare farming methods then to those now used in modern agriculture.

She brings to class her antique butter press and samples of pork crackling—both are part of the book the students are reading.

“They love it. They just thoroughly love it,” Knauf said. “In fact, they’ve asked me to take them to our little town museum to see what they might see there that we have been reading about in Farmer Boy.”

Last fall, Knauf even had an aquarium full of tadpoles and a bin full of mealworms. The students watch the life cycles and discuss the roles each play in the environment.

But there could be more creatures in the classroom at any time. Because Knauf encourages her students to bring in any creatures they deem appropriate to observe.  

The learning doesn’t stop there.

Two microscopes and boxes of prepared slides are available for students. But Knauf understands the value of self-discovery. And lets the students study their own items, like leaves, insect parts and even their own blood.

At least twice a year, the students hatch chicks in an incubator. But they’re all different breeds, sparking discussion among the students.
She’s even brought in cotton plants from her uncle’s South Texas farm. The Cotton Belt, the Texas cotton industry and its effect on the economy—jobs, products and more—become part of the curriculum.

“I just mainly get a very good feeling of helping these children realize where we have come from and where we are going,” Knauf said. “They just thoroughly enjoy knowing what life is really like, and not just in their own little area, but elsewhere.”

And breakfast cereal is brought to the classroom. Because it offers a lesson in iron.

They make an iron cereal soup by adding a large amount of water to the dry cereal. Once the cereal gets soggy, the mixture is placed in storage bags. The students, with magnets in hand, try to draw the iron particles to the edge.

As much fun as the students have in class, they take their excitement outside to a local dairy. Silage, milk quality, biosecurity, storage and the milking process are part of the tour.

The projects and field trips coincide and fulfill standards of the fourth grade curriculum.

“The children simply learn the concepts at a deeper and more personal level because of the activities involved,” her application stated.
She’s been teaching for 21 years.

During that time, Knauf’s students inspire her, just as she inspires them.

To help fuel her inspiration and further incorporate agriculture into her classroom, Knauf will attend the National Agriculture in the Classroom Conference in Arizona next summer as part of winning the award at the state level.

She’ll also receive a $300 cash award, as will Cooke County Farm Bureau.

Knauf is excited about receiving the recognition, but even more so about spending a week learning more with other teachers from across the country. And bringing that additional knowledge back to her classroom and her students.

“I just hope that they realize that every industry that touches our lives depends on agriculture. That everything we do, the products, the resources that we use—it all has to do with agriculture,” Knauf said.


Multi-million dollar TDA fee increases delayed

By Julie Tomascik
Associate Editor

Following pushback from the agriculture community and state lawmakers, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller has delayed proposed fee increases for industries the agency oversees.

The fee increases, which were proposed this fall, will now take effect Jan. 1, 2016 rather than Dec. 1, because much of the feedback received during the comment period called for a delay in implementation.

The Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) is poised to hike fees for many of the licenses, registrations and services it provides. The fees, in some cases, are more than doubling.

Texas Farm Bureau (TFB) submitted one of the many letters received by the commissioner, requesting an extension of the comment period and questioning the need for the increases.

“TDA has not demonstrated that the increases will result in an increase in services provided,” TFB President Russell W. Boening stated in the letter. “An increase in fees with no increase in service or benefits is difficult to justify.”

Confusion surrounds the September 2015 Cost Recovery Rate document distributed by TDA, which claims the agency had “early discussions with stakeholders.”

But, in communicating with stakeholder groups, the impacts to users are not completely understood, Boening’s letter continued.

The intentions of the fee increases are also unclear, TFB Associate Director of Commodity and Regulatory Activities Brant Wilbourn said.

“We believe the fees should only apply to the charged service and not to other activities in TDA,” Boening said.

That’s how the fees are currently structured. Specific fees are only applied to certain programs and can’t transfer from year to year.

The increases come at a time when the agency is operating on a smaller budget, after Miller championed those cuts during his time as a Texas representative.

And the increases are significant.

Several million dollars are at stake, ultimately affecting the many industries within Texas agriculture.

“Prices would increase for renewing grain warehouse licenses, registering pesticide products and field inspections to certify seeds, among others,” Wilbourn said. “And the cost of renewing pesticide applicator licenses would also be affected, so the fee increases would be felt by many farmers and ranchers.”

That’s why Boening feels it is important that “TDA provide an analysis demonstrating that the increases will not negatively impact the Texas agricultural economy.”

Rationale and understanding. That’s what lawmakers and the agriculture community are calling for.

“The new fees won’t apply until after Commissioner Miller fields questions at a Dec. 8 hearing of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Water and Rural Affairs,” Wilbourn said.

Boening will also be present, and testify, at the hearing.

TFB and other agricultural organizations hope the delay allows their input to be considered in the fee structure.

AgriLife expert: 2015 is ‘jubilee’ year for deer hunting

By Robert Burns
Texas A&M AgriLife

Thanks to plenty of rain at the right times, the 2015 hunting season has been a “jubilee year” for the white-tailed deer crop, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service wildlife specialist.

“The deer crop this year has been fantastic,” said Dr. Jim Cathey, AgriLife Extension wildlife and fisheries program leader at College Station. “There are a lot of happy hunters out there.”

“We’ve had ample rainfall this year for much of Texas, and we could not say that in previous years,” he said. “Animal quality is very good. I’m hearing good reports of harvests out there in the field now. We will continue to have good conditions into the late fall and early winter.”

The economic impact in Texas for hunting was $3.65 billion in 2011, a drought year, and the most recent year for which he has statistics, Cathey said.

“Of that, deer hunting alone counts for $2.16 billion,” he said. “So it’s a pretty important economic driver for our state and wildlife conservation in Texas.”

Cathey said it’s been a very good year for other types of hunting, particularly quail, as numbers are back up. He noted that because 2011 was a drought year, which meant poorer crops of deer and other game animals, he would expect the economic impact for this year to be better.|

“We should probably have brand new numbers within a year,” he said. “But I can’t say they will be higher because everything depends on license sales and related items. But drought or not, it’s definitely worth getting the license, not only for the importance of going out there and enjoying wildlife recreation but for the contribution the hunter conservationist makes back into the management of wildlife.”


Gov. Abbott to lead business development mission to Cuba

Governor Abbott will lead a delegation to Havana, Cuba where he will hold meetings and events to focus on travel, trade and exports from Monday, Nov. 30 to Wednesday, Dec. 2.

While in Cuba, Abbott will meet with officials from Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Trade and Investment, Port of Mariel, Cimex (Cuban Export-Import Corporation), Cuba Chamber of Commerce, Alimport (Cuban Export Company and Food Importer) and various economic institutions.

This will be Abbott’s second international business development trip since taking office.

“With a new era of eased trade and travel restrictions between the U.S. and Cuba—and as the 12th largest economy in the world—Texas has an opportunity to capitalize and expand its economic footprint at home and abroad,” said Abbott. “Opening the door to business with Texas will expand free enterprise and the freedom that flows from it. I look forward to expanding business opportunities for both Texas and Cuba.”

Abbott will be joined on the trip by Tracye McDaniel, CEO of TexasOne, members of the Governor’s staff and various business and economic leaders from around the state.

The trip will be sponsored and paid for by TexasOne, the state’s Economic Development Corporation.

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