Holding the reins over Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA) means one will face a lot of pressure in dealing with regulatory agencies and other governmental affairs. Richard Thorpe III was more than ready for the challenge when he became TSCRA trail boss in 2016. As an emergency room physician at a hospital in Abilene, he faces life or death threats every day. For him, conferring with a boastful regulatory bureaucrat is a piece of cake.
Thorpe and his wife, Karen, operate a cow-calf and stocker operation near Winters in Runnels County. They also run cattle in Coleman County and have had production in the Trans-Pecos area and into Oklahoma. “We started running cattle in 1985,” he says. “I’m a first-generation rancher and we’re excited to have a third-generation in the family through our grandchildren.”
Quarter horses are also a key to their operation. Karen and their daughter, Tammy, head up the horse program. They handle 40 to 50 broodmares and 2 stallions. “Blue roans have been a niche market,” Thorpe says. “We sell most of the colts every year. Buyers are from across the nation and into Canada, Mexico and even England.” The family also runs a wildlife and hunting program. Tammy’s husband, Chad Halfmann, comes from a family in the Red Angus seedstock business. The Thorpe’s son, Scott, and his wife, Misty, have three children. “We’re all involved in horses and cattle,” Thorpe says. “I’m a horse addict. I love to ride. I’m a roper.”
Thorpe credits his medical training and ER-driven anxiety to helping him become a better rancher. “I did undergraduate work at the University of Texas and attended medical school through Texas Tech University,” he says. “I also did my residency training through the Tech med school. I am a rancher who has a job outside the ranch. Nowadays, a great majority of our TSCRA members are people who have another line of work outside ranching. It has been very good for me. Being a physician and ER doctor has helped me get where I am today.”
As a physician, some may think Thorpe does not have the time to serve as TSCRA president. “Some doctors may not have such time. But as an ER physician, only one-third of my time is spent on my medical practice. That’s what is unique about being an ER doctor. I can spend two-thirds of my time at our ranch and serving TSCRA. That’s a luxury for me and my family.”
As a Cattle Raisers vice president, Thorpe dealt with numerous issues that were potentially damning to his fellow ranchers. Issues have ranged from the waters of the United States (WOTUS) and other misguided proposals from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), to unfounded health-scare charges against beef, U.S. dietary guidelines, animal rights activism and other issues important to ranchers and farmers.
“In the ER, I deal with a lot of crisis management,” Thorpe says. “As in running my ranch, this experience allows me to think on my feet quickly, and then make proper decisions.”
The dietary guidelines question was a key element in late 2015. There were concerns that U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) would set guidelines that went against scientific proof that lean beef was healthy and belonged in well-balanced diets. Thorpe and then TSCRA President Pete Bonds joined the leadership of National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) and beef leaders from across the nation in a campaign to include beef in the dietary guidelines.
For Thorpe and Bonds, it was kind of a “good cop, bad cop” scenario. “Richard is a great mediator for TSCRA,” Bonds says. “One of his biggest assets is he is a medical doctor. That was especially beneficial in our efforts to obtain sound dietary guidelines. He was able to discuss the benefits of beef in the diet based on scientific facts.
“We are a good team. I can throw in the common sense side of beef in the diet and be the attack dog. Richard can throw in the scientific information. He is a very good communicator. He is a lot more politically correct than I am. The dietary guidelines debate isn’t the last time people will raise the vegetarian diet issue to try to break us. Richard’s knowledge of science and his communications skills will continue to be extreme assets for TSCRA members.”
Bonds adds that Thorpe is an excellent voice for the eminent domain. “He’s really a fighter on that,” he says. Private property rights have always been a major concern for TSCRA. Surface use agreements for oil and gas production on private property have been a big issue in recent years. The association has addressed these concerns. But no private property issues have been more tested than ownership of water on a landowner’s property. Citing TSCRA resolutions, Thorpe says, “State law is clear that groundwater is the vested, real property of private landowners, but some continue to challenge the law. Private landowners must defend and reaffirm their ownership of this property and all constitutionally mandated private property rights in the regulatory, legal and legislative arenas to protect the resource for the benefit of all.”
He stresses, “The attack and erosion of private property rights has been a real eye-opener. We are constantly fighting for private property rights. That is a key part of our association’s governmental affairs action. Eminent domain, endangered species and the EPA’s WOTUS guidelines are examples of government encroachment on our land. Our industry efforts to educate Congress on the massive overreach of the federal government in the WOTUS recommendations were effective. Both houses of Congress voted against the measure.
“However, the Obama administration vetoed the congressional action. So we will continue to fight against WOTUS and other efforts by the government to infringe on our private property rights. The EPA wants to control your water and regulate how you take care of your land. The EPA wants to tell you what insect, weed or brush control measure you can use and when to use it.
“Ranchers and landowners know what’s best for their property. We are the true environmentalists. Having the government and the EPA trying to tell us what to do and trying to take control and regulate our land requires action on our part to offset these land-grab efforts. It takes a lot of money and knowledgeable personnel to handle that task.
Thankfully, TSCRA provides the expertise to address these issues on behalf of our association membership and other ranchers and landowners across our region.”
The importance of water will forever impact Texas and Oklahoma ranches. Urbanization of the states means fewer voices for rural water issues. “Water is our most important issue,” Thorpe says. “Texas is always in some sort of a drought. There is always some portion of the state that is drier than other areas. With the population growth in our state, they are not bringing more water with them. Urban areas are looking for more sources of water. Again, the surface landowners own the water beneath their land. But with constant pressure from urban areas, we will continue to fight water battles from now on.”
Since TSCRA was established in 1877, prevention of theft and prosecution of thieves involved in cattle rustling and ranch property theft have been key reasons to belong to the association.
“The association was built due to cattle theft,” Thorpe says. “Law enforcement by our 30 TSCRA special rangers is among the major benefits of being a TSCRA member. It stands shoulder to shoulder with governmental affairs. Electronic cattle identification is very useful for keeping data on cattle, but special rangers rely heavily on ranch brands to locate stolen cattle. We need to have a visible, permanent mark on the animal. It curtails and prevents theft.”
TSCRA special rangers recover millions of dollars annually in cattle, equipment and other ranch property. They work directly with city, county and state law enforcement agencies in apprehending rustlers and recovering stolen property and cattle.
Registered ranch brands help put thieves in jail. “It’s important not only to brand, but to register your brand with your county,” Thorpe says. “That registration is provided to TSCRA. It can then be used by special rangers to deal with lost or stolen cattle. There will never be anything that will replace a permanent brand on cattle.”
The law enforcement group also works with TSCRA staff members at its headquarters in Fort Worth and separate office in Austin. The staff covers a lot of territory. “I wish everyone knew the full-time staff we have devoted to nothing but governmental affairs,” Thorpe says. “They’re not only involved in state issues, but also federal issues in Washington, D.C. What also makes our association so strong is the tremendous amount of volunteer leadership, members across the region who volunteer their time and resources to help in Austin and Washington when needed. That’s important for us to combat legislative issues on the state and federal levels.”
Cheers for the Checkoff
Thorpe is dedicated to the National Beef Checkoff, and has been since he started ranching. “I was fortunate to have served on the Texas Beef Council for 6 years and as a Federation director at NCBA for 6 years,” he says.
“I got to chair various committees on the Federation side. I’ve seen the tremendous value of our checkoff program — many times over. The national checkoff and the new Texas state checkoff are the only resources we have available to invest in the future of our industry. We don’t have any other sources of money to do research on beef safety and nutrition and to fund beef promotion.”
He points out that checkoff-funded research on beef safety and nutrition armed the state association and NCBA leaders with data to provide USDA and HHS with the facts on beef in a healthy diet.
“With the data provided through checkoff-funded research, we were able to get that information to the federal agencies. It helped convince them to go back and re-examine all the facts before writing the dietary guidelines.”
Thorpe is among many who see a need for additional checkoff funds. “The national checkoff is vital for our industry. The National Beef Checkoff was established in 1985,” he says. “That $1 doesn’t have the value it had 30 years ago. Producers in our state saw the need to establish a Texas state checkoff. They overwhelmingly voted for the extra dollar to fund research and promotion. Basically, the checkoff is the cost of doing business for beef producers and feeders. If we really want to invest in our industry, the checkoff is vital to our future.”
Support of the state and national beef checkoffs are important steps in ranchers being advocates for the beef industry. “I encourage producers of all sizes to get more involved. We all need to share our knowledge of the healthfulness and safety of beef with people in our communities,” Thorpe says. “There are many others who spread misinformation about our product. Consumers are hungry for factual information about what they eat. It’s up to us to provide the facts on beef.”
He is adamant about recruiting new members to TSCRA. “That is an easy way to show your support for our industry and take advantage of the benefits offered by the association,” Thorpe says. “I want ranchers and cattle producers to know we are a grassroots, producer-driven association.
“We represent people who own very few cows all the way up to the largest ranch operators in the world. We also have members who own land but don’t even own cattle. But they think being a member of Cattle Raisers is an advantage to them, with law enforcement protection or property rights. TSCRA is built to represent all ranchers and landowners. I am proud to serve as its president.”